Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Club - Emperor's Silent Army

Here is another entry in my series of book clubs for 1st through 3rd graders. Some of my kids are homeschoolers and tend younger, so my activities tend to gear that way.

Book: The Emperor's Silent Army by Jane O'Connor

Introduce Yourself
Tell us your name, your age, and what you would put in a tomb like the Emperor made?
We start every book club with name, age, and some semi-related book question.

Discussion Questions
  1. Why did the Emperor have the clay soldiers made?
  2. What would you take with you to the afterlife if you could?
  3. What type of soldier would you like to be in the Ancient Chinese Army?
  4. What surprised you most about the terracotta army?
  5. What would it be like to spend a very long time making something like a soldier and then have it buried?
  6. Why did the emperor have the books (except medicine and farming) burned? (he thought ignorant people were easier to control)
  7. What do you think of this? Are ignorant people easier to control? Why or why not?
  8. What were some of the interesting things about the emperor’s life? (the 270 palaces, assassination attempts, etc)
  9. Would you like to have been a first century emperor like that? Why or why not?
  10. Can you think of other cultures that built elaborate tombs? (the Egyptians, the Mayans)
  11. How do we honor the dead now?

There are all sorts of fascinating pieces of information about the teracotta soldiers on the web, including about the excavation of the Emperoror's tomb (and what is holding it up). We talked about that side of the story and looked at pictures and such.

Not a surprise, we went with making our own teracotta soldiers. I used self-hardening clay so the kids could take it home immediately and not have to worry about a kiln or the like. It was fun, but some kids were resistant and wanted to make their own images. After they made one little soldier, they were allowed to make other creatures, dogs and cats were especially popular. We used simple tooth picks to do our molding.

In keeping with our semi-Chinese theme, we had a semi-Chinese snack. We drank Green Tea a la Crystal Light. (In a powder, mixed up a pitcher, served chilled, it is rasberry enthused, etc.) All of the kids at least tried the Green Tea and only one didn't end up liking it. We ate snow peas (available in bags in the bagged salad aisle of my supermarket) dipped in ranch dressing (not at all Chinese, but very kid friendly). All the kids liked the snow peas, except for one (surprisingly not the same child who objected to the Green Tea).

One parent objected to the book and would not let his daughter read it because it "wasn't a story book" and was perhaps a bit too scary. Another parent thought it was rather "intense". They are primarily referring to the parts where the workers are shut in (to die) in the Emperor's Tomb. However, I strongly believe in tossing in the occasional non-fiction into our book club. A lot of kids respond very well to non-fiction, it stretches them, introduces them to types of literature, etc. The vast majority of the kids and parents had fun with this book.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Harry Potter News

J. K. Rowling just completed a new book, a book of fairy tales called “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” which is of course the volume that (WARNING SPOILER!) Dumbledore leaves Hermione in his will. (OKAY SPOILER OVER). Only seven copies have been made, one of which will be on sale in an auction house for charity.

Read the story
Sadly our entire book budget for the year probably wouldn't buy it. We could pay the starting price, but it is going to rise so fast...

Also, Ms. Rowling is suing to block a publication from a “lexicon website” because she plans to publish her own HP Encyclopedia. So that is good news for all the die-hards out there.
Read that story

I see another party in our future… Or at least a massive trivia night.

State Award Nominees

The 2008-2009 nominee list for the William Allen White Award is now available. Right now it is primarily for ordering purposes for teachers and librarians. Remember this is the award voted on by students in Kansas. I see some of my favorites on it:
2008-2009 William Allen White Award Nominees

Of course, I'm not a Kansas librarian anymore. I'm in Missouri now. That means I wait upon the Truman and Mark Twain Awards. The Mark Twain award which for years covered grades 4-8 is being split with slightly older than the Mark Twain Award and younger than the Gateway (high school award). Books can appear on multiple lists though. So it should be interesting.
There is a preliminary reading list available and I see many favorites on there as well.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Words to remember

Too late for Banned Books Week, but always good to quote again...

"All of us can think of a book... that we hope none of our children or any other children have taken off the shelf. But if I have the right to remove that book from the shelf - that work I abhor - then you also have exactly the same right and so does everyone else. And then we have no books left on the shelf for any of us."
-- Katherine Paterson, American author of childrens books (1932-)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Book Club - Bailey School Kids

Remember that I do book club for 1st through 3rd graders. So we stick to simpler books. This time, for our pre-halloween meeting, they got to read any book in the Bailey School Kids series by Debbie Dadey. This was a bit harder because everyone read different books (well some books were read by multiple children, but not many). So the discussion questions were vague and the activities less tied-in. This is the most purely "let's just have fun" book club that I have ever run. Here basically is what we did. (Personally I read Ghosts Don't Eat Potato Chips and Mummies Don't Coach Softball).

Discussion Questions
  1. Tell me in three sentences or less about the book you read.
  2. What sort of "unreal" creature were they investigating?
  3. Did the children decide that the adult was that creature?
  4. Do you think that adult was that creature?
  5. Are the Bailey School Kids brave? How were they brave (or not brave) in the book you read?
  6. When was a time you were brave?
  7. In Ghosts Don't Eat Potato Chips, they learn to play poker, what is your favorite card game?

Activity: Compare and Contrast with Venn Diagrams
In each of the books, the Bailey School Kids have to decide if an adult is or is not some sort of unreal creature. What type of mythical creature does the librarian most seem like? (With no prompting whatsoever from me the children chose angel). I had a big sheet of paper on the wall and we talked about Venn diagrams (the two circles that overlap) and how they could be used to compare and contrast. So we wrote down the things that were true only of librarians, only of angels, and true of both (we're both smart, and we both like to read). At the end, most things were not in the overlap of the circles, so it was decided I was probably not an angel. In a really intense book club, you could do this with the characters in the book.

Activity: Games
I read Ghosts Don't Eat Potato Chips in which they play poker. I didn't think I had enough time to teach poker, plus I wasn't sure about parent reactions. So I just pulled out board games for some fun.

Craft: Monster Masks
We designed our own monster masks (or cat or dog or angel or whatever). Cardstock or paper plates, markers, feathers, pompom balls, scissors (though I ended up cutting out most of the eye balls) and a jumbo craft stick to glue to the mask to use to hold it up. And we were good.

Snack: Potato Chips

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Off to MLA

MLA (an oft used acronym, in this case the Missouri Library Association) Conference is this week. Tomorrow morning early (very early considerintg I work until 9pm tonight and haven't packed) I leave for Springfield Missouri for this year's conference. You can catch me as part of the blogging team over at the official blog. I may try to double post/cross-post back here, but you never know. This is my first conference (PLA was a symposium) and I've heard they can get pretty crazy...

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is upon us. Go here to get your web badges. (I've got mine.)

2007 Banned Books Week: Ahoy! Treasure Your Freedom to Read and Get Hooked on a Banned Book

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Secrets of Droon - book club

Last week my first through third grade book club read The Hidden Stairs and Magic Carpet by Tony Abbott which is the first in The Secrets of Droon series. My kids are fairly active so here is some of what we did...

As they came in everyone got a nametag with their name written backwards (like the code Princess Keeah uses). After two kids ruined nametags, it was easier for me to write the nametags out.

Quick vote:
Who would go down the stairs? All of my kids decided that they would go down the stairs...

Introduce yourself
We said our names, our ages, and if we had the head of a person and the body of something else (like Max the spider-troll), what would your body be?

Discussion Questions:
  1. Would you have gone down the magic stairs?
  2. What sport do Eric, Julie and Neal play? What sports do you play?
  3. Eric, Julie and Neal work together as a team? How?
  4. When do you work with other people as a team?
  5. Max is a person’s head and the body of what? (Spider). If you could have a person’s head and an animal’s body, what animal would you choose?
  6. Where would you go and what would you do if you had a magic carpet?
  7. There was a bird following Keeah, do you think it was a good bird or bad one? Why?
  8. What did the Red Eye of Dawn disguise as? (A jewel) How would you disguise a magical object?
  9. How do you think that Eric, Julie and Neal could tell that Keeah was the good guy and the guys on the lizards were the bad ones?
  10. In this book, they fly on giant flying lizards, what sort of animal would you fly on if you could?
  11. Why do you think they can’t leave anything behind in Droon? (If they do something from Droon will appear in our world…) How could that be good? How could it be bad?
  12. How do you think Lord Sparr learned about our world from the soccer ball? What do you think he learned?

Activity: Droon Bingo
I used words from Droon (such as groggle, keeah, etc) and made bingo cards. Then we just played regular bingo. Bingo Card Maker

Activity: Droon match/memory
I made two sets of cards up with words from Droon (though not necessarily magic words) such as soccer, stairs, carpet, etc. On one set the word was written forwards, and on the other set they were written backwarsd (like Keeah's code). Both cards had the same clip art on them to be identifiable. The kids played Go Fish with them and also the memory game. (The one where you lay the cards out in a grid and turn over two at a time until you find matches).

Magic Candy Dust
We had some leftover Sandy Candy supplies (test tubes and the candy) from the Harry Potter party so we used that to make our own tubes of "magic dust" (just like Keeah used to heal Eric's ankle).

I didn't do anything specially book related for the snack. Nor did we do a craft since we made the candy tubes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9/11, books, and children

September 11th is never going to be an easy day. On our calendar it is printed as Patriots Day. I like that title well enough. On the second and fourth Tuesday of every month I do a bookclub for 1st to 3rd graders (theoretically, we've got homeschoolers so some 5 year-olds sneak in there, if they read the book and participate, they're fine). This September 11th was a second Tuesday. Normally I choose a simple chapter book, occasionally a non-fiction book. They read it before book club, we do some discussion, a game/activity, and often a craft. Then over a snack, I read the first few pages of the next book and they take it home with them. When I realized my book club would fall on September 11th, I had two choices, ignore it or do something about it. I am me, so I chose do something about it.

I chose three books that dealt around the topics raised by 9/11, the children were encouraged to read any two of the three. The books I chose were September Roses by Jeanette Winter, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein, and The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter. The first book most completely talks about the 9/11 tragedy, but in a way a child can understand. The second book tells the story of how in the 1970s a tightrope walker walked and danced between the towers with a rememberance to the fallen towers at the end. And the final book tells the story of an Iraqi librarian who helped to save books from her library (which eventually burnt) during the war.

Some of the parents were nervous, one mother wanted her son to start book club, but decided to wait until after this session. I understand. I was nervous about it too. During the summer my numbers had dwindled to about 11 or 12 kids per session. This session I had 17! A lot of them were new, or this was only their second time. So it was really chaotic. We talked (very briefly) about 9/11. I let them volunteer what their parents/teachers/etc had told them, and summed it up as a "very sad day". (They said the towers fell down, it was a cop out, but it was fine.) Our introduction is always "your name, your age, some random fact". This week's random fact was when was the last time you did something nice for someone without being asked. Then I talked about how the events of that day six years ago made a lot of people think about how we could change our world for the better. And we talked a little bit of that. They all shared ideas about how doing little things in their area (pick up litter, etc) can help make the whole world more peaceful. Around the Gerstein book we talked about civil disobedience (it's a stretch, it's against the rules for the tightrope walker to go between the towers), and when it is okay to not follow the rules (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, jr., stressing that most of the time you should follow the rules). We were going to talk about remembering things and memorials, but we never got to it because we spent so much time on how we can be peace people and change our world.

Then we played a game around The Librarian of Basra. I held up a variety of books two at a time. In each hand there was a different book, and the children had a split second to decide if they could only save one, which one would they save. They ran to the side of the room to indicate their choice. It's fun, very visual to see how the group splits, and they loved it. The hardest choice for most of the kids was Harry Potter versus Magic Tree House. Next we made peace people out of pipe cleaners, ate snack (which sometimes relates to the book and this time was just yogurt in those little tubes kids like), and read from the next book (The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet by Tony Abbott). It was a crazy thing, but it went well. I don't think anyone would have minded had I ignored the holiday, but I think the parents felt that this handled the situation properly for a group of children who were toddlers when the towers fell.

It's funny because even with this plan, I let myself forget a little that it was 9/11. When I was in the car, with the radio on, and they were replaying some coverage of that day set to music, than I remembered. And I allowed myself to mourn again a bit for all those lost.

I wrote up in our library's email newsletter a little thing for parents about using books to help your children deal with tough events. I worked hard on the wording because I didn't want to be condescending (you MUST talk to your child about 9/11 and this is the ONLY way to do it). Read below if you would like...

Many of the children we see at the xyz library were too young to understand what was happening on September 11, 2001, or they were not even born. However that day started a series of events that forever will shape their lives, even as it continues to shape the world climate. As another anniversary draws near, we recognize that talking to children about this and other disastrous events such as the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean or the continuing conflict in Iraq can be difficult It is our hope that some of these books might be helpful in your conversations with your children.

For the youngest preschoolers:
Mama: a true story in which a baby hippo loses his mama during the tsunami, but finds a new home and a new mama by Jeanette Winter
In this d eceptively simple book that only contains one word of text (“mama”), a small hippo is separated from his mother during the 2004 tsunami and eventually adopts a giant tortoise as his mother. Based on the true story of Owen and Mzee. Even young children can undertand the anxiety of being separated from your mother and the joy of finding a home again – and this book uses that to show the struggle faced by so many after losing their homes to natural disaster.

September Roses by Jeanette Winter
In the simplest of text with basic but beautiful illustrations, this little book tells a big story. Two sisters journeyed from South Africa to New York for a flower show. After the attacks of 9/11, they found a new use for their roses and a beautiful tribute is made both by their flowers and this lovely book.

For older preschoolers and early elementary students:
A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer
Here the story of Owen and Mzee is more fleshed out with beautiful watercolor illustrations that illustrate a young hippo who loves to play hide and seek until the day he can not find his mama at all. Eventually he finds a new person to cuddle with and a new hide and seek companion. While parts of the story are sad, the warm tones of the illustrations and hopeful note of the text present a comforting image.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
One sunny morning in 1974, a young street performer took to the skies in a daring act as he walked a rope stretched in between the two towers of the World Trade Center. This Caldecott Medal winning book tells his story in breathtakingly beautiful illustrations and fold out pages, as he dances and plays suspended in the sky between two of the highest towers ever built. And at the end, we are all reminded that though the towers are gone, their memory is still with us as is the memory of a young man dancing up in the sky.

For more advanced children:
Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff
Here is a non-fiction book that tells in wonderful details and incredible full page photos the story of Owen and Mzee. Readers can follow the trek of young Owen as he is painstakingly rescued and relocated to a refuge where he meets Mzee. This is perfect for older children who always want to know “what really happened”. For those who want to know what happened next, they can also read Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Witner
As war threatened Iraq, one librarian worried about the library in her charge. Slowly she moved the books to her house, and then, with the help of her friends, to safety. Based on a true story from Iraq, here is one librarian who understood her duty to protect the books and valuable cultural treasures. As war rages, and danger, fire, and bombs come closer, still she protects the library’s collections. The book ends on the hopeful note of telling us that the librarian will continue to protect the books as she dreams for a peaceful day and a rebuilt library.

Gross Science Program

Now that summer is over, vacation is over, and I can finally recover, I would like to start posting some of my favorite and most sucessful programs from the summer. Having already discussed the Harry Potter event in great detail, I will move to my second favorite event of the summer - our Gross Science program.

Gross Science was held on an afternoon (2pm) for one hour. It was registration only, 30ish spots, filled up, and we did not take a waiting list. (Though anyone who showed up hoping to snag a no-show's spot was allowed in.) The program was aimed at boys ages 7-10, but anyone was allowed in. It was almost perfectly half/half gender divide, ages 6 to 11 attended (with the greatest cluster around 7 to 9), and about 35 kids came. Total supply cost is around $30.

Set up:
I had a large meeting room at my disposal. I put tables against all the walls and left the middle area empty. Each table (actually a wall with two or three tables pushed together) had a different station. No one was allowed in early (of course I was still setting up until the last second). When everyone came in, they all sat in the middle.

Getting the gross fun started:
All the kids are sitting in the middle, facing me and the "front" (In a room with stations on all sides, front is a relative concept, but they were facing the projection screen.) What could be grosser than poop? So that is how we started things. We did some fun facts about poop. How much do you poop a day? (There's a fun math formula to help you figure it out.) How does poop help us? How can we use it? Poop helped us fight WWII. (German soldiers fighting in North Africa believed it was good luck to roll their tanks through camel dung, so Allied soliders began hiding bombs under the dung.) Kids had fun with the facts and guessing which animal pooped the most, etc. However this was mostly short. I then held up a copy of The Truth About Poop and explained that this was the source of all of my facts. (See resource list below). At this point the parents who hadn't left (just unobtrusively hanging out in the back) were looking rather queasy.

Then we went into a powerpoint that was projecting on the wall of a "match the poop" game. Each slide had two pictures of poop and two animal pictures. First the poop would appear and the kids would shout out guesses. Then (when I raised my hand they went silent, mostly) the two choices would appear. We would vote on which ones we thought matched. With a click of my magic mouse, lines would be drawn connecting the animal and their droppings. Super fun.

Next we read a book about mealworms (A Mealworm's Life by John Himmelman).

Starting the stations:
At this point we were ready to start the kids on the stations where they would spend the bulk of the program. I walked from station to station explaining what they were and what they would do. (In an ideal world we would have one staff member or volunteer for each station, in my world we just had me.) All the kids were given a handout that explained some basic fun facts, stuff about each station, reading list, website list, etc. And they got a bag to carry things around in. Then I turned the kids loose. They could go to any station, in any order, and stay as long as they liked. I encouraged them that if one station was full they could go somewhere else and come back when it was less busy.

Station one: Owl Pellets
On the right side table I had some owl pellets set up for the kids to disect. I had information about what you could expect to see in the owl pellets (bones, hair, fur, etc). Owl pellets are paper plates with disection tools (plastic pointy things). I got the pellets from Operation Wildlife for a $1.50 sterilization fee each. Great deal! They are a local group here, check for a local group or find someone to ship to you. This was not as popular as I expected, but many of the kids had done it recently in school.

Station two: Fake Poop
On the table to the right, clockwise, of the front, this one I really spread out over three tables together so many kids could work at once. At this point, I had put up on the projector pictures of the different poop types. A few pictures on the tables would have been nice too. I made my own play dough and colored it brown. (I have a great recipe I will post later.) To color it brown I put in black food coloring (available separately from the rest of the pack) and added in some of the yellow and red for warmer tones. It was a rather grayish brown, but it was real looking enough to be gross. I also purchased a large bag of hamster food that had lots of seeds etc. Kids rolled these seeds, nuts, shells, etc into their poop pellets. Corn is a good filler (and often isn't digested and shows in feces). These fake poop pieces were then placed in ziplock baggies and into their carrying bags. Actually I already had the playdough divided into chunks in baggies to keep one child from taking it all, so they put it back in their baggie. It was a good system. Some children really got into making their poop look like a specific animal's poop. Lots of fun, especially after the owl pellets.

Station three: Mealworms
Continuing clockwise around the room, this was on the "back" wall, opposite the front, projector, and station one. This was also two tables or more. When explaining the stations, this one took the most time. Kids spent the most time here, enjoyed it the most, and in the past few months it is the one they mention to me the most when they come in. I bought mealworms (a hundred of them cost $5.99) at a pet store (when I was buying the hamster food for fake poop). They're in the refrigerator section (to be fed to lizards and what not). If you try to keep them in your fridge be careful, they can't get too cold without dying. I bought them the day before and just let them thaw overnight. I recommend this to get them more active. I learned just as much about mealworms from talking to the pet shop guy who raises them for his lizards as I did from books and websites. I bought them and then dropped some potato bits (for moisture) into the grain stuff they were in. They liked the dark and calm of my cabinet (which also kept my cat from trying to eat them). They were most active immediately after being removed from a darkened cabinet so I tried to keep them in something resembling that right up until I showed them to the kids.

We had "experiments" the kids could do with the mealworms. There were mealworms still in their tupperware (butter tub style) container from the pet store and some on paper plates. As well there were magnifying glasses and paper towels. They wrote the answers/observations with golf pencils onto their handout.
Questions to explore:
  1. Do you see any exoskeletons shed by the larva? Look at them under the microscope. What do you notice?
  2. Pick up a larva mealworm. Does it wiggle? Does it wiggle more when you hold an end instead of the middle?
  3. If you put your mealworm on a plate, does it move toward the damp side (wet paper towel) or dry?
  4. On the dark and light plate*, does your meal worm move to the dark or to the light?

*The dark and light paperplate had half of it covered up with paper taped down like a little "roof" for the mealworms to crawl under.

Next the kids got to make a "mealworm habitat" to take home. We had babyfood jars (with holes punched in the lids). They put some oats (regular oatmeal) in the bottom and a piece of potato. Their handout included some mealworm care instructions. They never need water, they'll get the moisture from the potato. Kids then placed a few mealworms in the jar to take home (but only if their parents approved). Even as the beetles they'll eventually turn into, they really can't escape. Kids were also encouraged to move their mealworms to a bigger container eventually (any sort of small butter tub or other washed former plastic food container such as a cottage cheese tub will work). I think every single kid took home some meal worms. The rest of them were set free in a compost pile and a garden. These mealworms were destined to be food so I felt not bat at all about giving them to children. One child has sucessfully bred a new generation of mealworms.

Station four: Fake Snot
This is on the next wall in our clockwise circle. Following the instructions here we made fake snot. I had big bowls of water and borax solution, gallon jugs of glue, spoons for measuring, and small cups for mixing (as well as craft sticks to mix with). It all goes into a ziplock baggie at the end. The neon food coloring is particularly fun for this. We went through two and a half vials of green food coloring.

Station five: Books and resources
Back on the "front" wall, on the left of the projection I had a table full of books for kids to check out. I requested every copy of these titles in my system and almost all of them were checked out. Usually at a program, one or two people take a book, here everyone left with at least one book, many left with multiple books. Especially popular were mealworm books (to care for their new pets).

A Mealworm’s Life by John Himmelman
Mealworms by Donna Schaffer
Mealworms: Raise them, watch them, see them, change by Adrienne Mason
Grossology by Sylvia Branzei
Grossology and You by Sylvia Branzei
Hands-on Grossology by Slvia Branzei
Gross Universe by Jeff Szpirglas
Gross Science Experiments by Q. L. Pearce
Truth About Poop by Susan Goodman
What Stinks by Marilyn Singer
Jurassic Poop by Jacob Berkowitz
Gee Whiz! It’s All About Pee by Susan Goodman

Web Resources
Learn about mealworms, interesting activity ideas

There is more out there, but I'll let you enjoy finding it. This was one of my favorite programs ever. I'll try to figure out how to get the handouts online or email me if you would like them.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Harry and the Potters

Our Harry Potter release party drew 625 people. Pictures abound, and I'm not feeling up to posting them right now.

Harry and the Potters performed last week at our main branch library with Draco and the Malfoys oepning. Pictures are on our website. I went (on my own time) in my Hermione costume (already owned it) with a friend just for fun. Since I was there (in costume) and I'm (arguably) one of the biggest fans of Harry Potter stuff on staff I got to introduce the band. I kept up my Hermione guise and told the assembled crowd (primarily teens) that as schools both Muggle and magical were about to start they should be at home studying. It was fun. Great concert. See if you see me in the pictures!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How Harry Potter has taken over my life...

Long time, no post, but we've been unbelievably busy here with school visits and summer reading at the Plaza Library. And now our world is all about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We're planning a massive event. Currently I'm re-reading/listening to the books so I'll be all prepped for the new book.

Our Event site All this happens from 10pm until 1am on Friday July 20th, until Saturday July 21st. (D-Day basically).

We closed off reservation with hundreds and hundreds of people last week. In case anyone needs any last minute ideas, here is what we're doing. Basically we're transforming the entire library into Hogwarts Academy. Children (arriving at 10pm) will check in. As they go in to the event, they'll receive a bag with a copy of the "Daily Prophet" outlining the different activities and a parent evaluation. 20 bags will contain a "golden ticket" (we're mixing our books yes I know) good for one free copy of the new book. They will also draw out a nametag from the sorting hat. The nametag will have one of four crests on it, effectively sorting them into the appropriate house. The students may then attend the following classes at their own pace (Note I say children, but I mean kids ages 6 through 17 with their adults):

  • Divination: there will be a fortune teller or two, as well as instructions for palm reading and those little fish things that curl up in your palm to tell you a fortune.
  • Snacks: Lots of very cool snacks to choose from, including pretzel wands.
  • History of Magic: Giant trivia contest as teams, prizes available
  • Care of Magical Creatures:Real Live Owls! WOOOOOO! And an owl craft.
  • Common Room: If you can find a staff member to tell you the password, you can grab a cushion and relax while watching the third movie.
  • OWL and NEWT testing: Professor McGonagall will be on hand to test students (word searches and the like) who will recieve a reward (small prize)
  • Wizard's Chess: Chess boards set up for fun
  • Herbology: Plant something! (Probably basil in a small pot that children will take home)
  • Potions: This is the class I'm teaching. We'll be making our own bouncing balls out of normal type stuff (elmers glue, borax, etc) that I will relabel as potions ingredients. We will also have sandy candy (edible sand art) for the kids to assemble in test tubes to take home their own "magical ingredients".

I feel like I'm missing something, but probably not. At about 11:30 or so, we'll gather everyone into one massive area. At every class (even the common room), they had a chance to enter a drawing just for participating. We'll pull those winners. (For my potions class, the prize is a crystal growing kit, each prize relates to the class.) We'll do some other fun stuff and then at midnight, Brian Busby will read the first 20 minutes of the new book. The books will be on sale curtesy of Reading Reptile with proceeds going to the Library's Children's Book Fund. No one is obligated to buy the book to come to the party.

The magic is in the details and we're making as many details as we can magical. When you get checked in, it is by a person in costume (all staff is in constume) with a quill checking names on parchment. When you take your OWL test, we have quills to use (beautiful ones too). The decorations are incredible. We want this to be as over the top and incredible as possible, something people will remember and talk about for years.

My costume is pretty cool. I'm Hermione (kinda grownup). I've already got the hair afterall. Knee length gray skirt (had trouble ordering a school girl skirt), gray sweater vest, short sleeved white shirt, Gryffindor tie, black graduation robe. I'll try to post pictures.

It's going to be an amazing, incredible party. But it is also totally consuming my life and that of many of my coworkers. We've been planning for months. Our entire workroom is overflowing with party supplies as is my entryway to my house. It feels like every other word out of my mouth is HP related. There are huge standups counting down the days til the book all over our department. And of course it is all over the news. I'm going to see the movie on Thursday, all I'm reading are the books. It's like a new lifestyle, one that is all Harry Potter all the time. It's insane, but it is also a ton of fun. This is truly a once in a life time event and we want to make it that special, wonderful, magical thing.

It's a testament to how much I love my job and this event that I'm not even a little burnt out yet. 10 days! (well to the book, 9 days to the event)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


At the Kansas City Public Library, we offer the ever popular Dial-a-Story service. Call the phone number and listen to a story. Updates once a week. Always fun.

Found this article on a library in Austria raising money through an unusual variation of the same theme. Dial-a-Story for grownups perhaps?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Libraries as Homeless Shelter

Everyone else is posting this article I guess I should as well.

Former Salt Lake City Assistant Director writes about the problems of the homeless at the library. Keep in mind when reading this article that it is not journalism and objective, but more of an opinion piece from a (former/retired) librarian. And the comments can be rather volatile.

America Gone Wrong:A Slashed Safety Net Turns Libraries Into Homeless Shelters

I'd always heard vaguely about libraries having a problem with the homeless. But I heard that fom the comfort of my nice suburban library where we very very very rarely encountered it. And I knew it academically from listserv discussions, articles, etc. And then I moved to an urban library. And I saw it everyday. And hearing about it and living it is different. These poor people tug at your heartstrings. And yet they can be disruptive. But they have no where else to go. And we're open to all. It's an impossible conundrum. Or at least it feels that way.

Space Storytime

I originally called this storytime "stars and moon storytime" but space works just as well. I used this storytime with preschoolers, and toddlers and both seemed to enjoy it. The books are all fairly short so I just read more of them to the older preschoolers. I used my standard format:
    Standard Storytime
  • opening song/introduction to topic
  • longest book
  • fingerplay
  • book
  • song/action rhyme
  • book or flannel board
  • fingerplay or song
  • closing song

Of course all of that is open to interpretation, and I usually also sing the ABCs, count up and down to 10, etc.
    Books I used:
  • I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay - a nice story about a boy who goes for a nighttime walk. There is one to two sentences on each page, with some (not too terribly corny) internal rhymes. It's a good size for storytime. Practice because some of the text wraps around pictures and you don't want to have to tilt your head in the middle of reading it.
  • Moon Plane by Peter McCarthy - A boy in his yard looks up to see a plane flying overhead. He imagines being on the plane and flying in it up to the moon. The pictures are pretty and have that washed out grey tone of dream world. It's a little abstract and I like the next one better.
  • Zoom! Zoom! I'm Off to the Moon! by Dan Yaccarino - A bright and colorful book where a boy goes off to the moon. It's fun. The kids liked it. With this one or the previous one, I always stop and ask the children if they think they'll go to the moon (hey commercial space travel is a reality, it's a big future, and who knows which of your children will grow up to be astronauts, plus I'm a scifi fan). Always encourage children to dream.
  • I'll Catch the Moon by Nina Crews - This is standard Crews, collages of real pictures show a girl who climbs up a ladder to catch the moon. There are cute moments and some fun word play. The pictures are great and the girl is non-caucasion showing some much needed diversity. The writing is somewhere between lyrical prose and just plain stilted, but I still like it for storytime.
  • The Sun is My Favorite Star by Frank Asch - I like to talk about some real astronomy facts, such as the sun is a star (this is amazing to four year-olds), and this book is a colorful reminder. It is a little more about the sun than the rest of space, and only has one night picture, but it is a cheerful friendly book.
  • Stars! Stars! Stars! by Bob Barner - My absolute favorite book for this storytime. My only complaint is that it is rather little. I wish it were bigger physically. I love to tell the kids that some of the stars we see are actually planets and if we were on another planet, Earth might look like a star. This book traces outward through the galaxy in bright simple pictures and easy rhymes. At the end is one page with all the planets on it. We do a review on this page. Of course Pluto (poor Pluto!) is listed as a planet. I just say Pluto and friends are the dwarf planets out there. It works okay. It is always good to sneak in some colorful true books (this one we have in Juvenile Easy with picture books, but other systems may have it in non-fiction).
  • See You Soon Moon by Donna Conrad - A boy going on a long car trip to his grandmother's bids farewell to the moon only to discover the moon comes along. Decent book, not overwhelmingly wonderful.
  • Papa Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle - I would be rather remiss if I left Eric Carle off this list. But I didn't actually use this book in storytime. It's a nice story of a child whose father tries to fetch her the moon and a nice way to talk about the phases of a moon. But the other books are more fun with the toddlers (in my opinion).

I did this storytime the day after the full moon and we talked about looking at space and stars. I like to think that I'm encouraging more than just reading, a love of learning through reading. It was a really fun storytime.

I used a lot from this website, especially the "we're flying to the moon" one. It was fun to add in our own verses and act them out about going to the moon. Don't forget Twinkle Twinkle Little Star though that is so slow, it always makes me sleepy.

We made our own galaxies. We had fun foam shapes (a big bag full of circles, ovals, squares, etc. in great colors) and some die-cutes of stars and a crescent moon. The children glued them on and colored in details. Perfect craft for the 2 year-olds. The foam shapes could be planets or asteroids or space ships, or whatever they wanted. It's about the process after all not the result.

I think I like this storytime because it is a little more factual than the usual storytime topic such as "frogs" (though I love those as well). I feel like I'm encouraging the natural curiousity of a child towards the world around them. Plus I get to share fun astronomical facts in my happy storytime voice. I'd love to hear if anyone else is doing anything similar.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Building Block Nominees 2007

It was my pleasure this year to serve on the committee for the 2007 Building Block award. For those of you who are not familiar with the award, it is for the picture book for preschoolers voted most popular by preschoolers. Librarians (and others) nominate books all year long, this year the books had to have a 2005 or 2006 publication year to be eligible. In addition either the author OR illustrator must be a resident of the United States. The committee reads the nominees (usually around 90-110) and votes. The top 30 make it to the next round. Those 30 are read to an audience of selectors (other children's librarians, MLS students, paraprofessionals, etc.) who vote for the top 10. Those top 10 are the nominees. Librarians all across Missouri work hard to get as many preschoolers to read or listen to these books as possible. We go to schools (headstarts and kindergartens are eligible), day cares, etc for votes as well as having ballots in the library. Since I only became a Missouri Librarian in August of 2006, I have been through one season of voting (voting runs September 1st through December 31st) and thoroughly enjoyed the process. The 2006 nominees were great and I had a lot of fun with them. Not all of our books are as strong this year, but more about it later. I will also talk a little in a future entry about which books didn't make it to my disappointment.

2007 Missouri Building Block Nominees
  • Move Over, Rover! by Karen Beaumont; Illustrated by Jane Dyer
  • Dooby Dooby Moo by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
  • Wiggle by Doreen Cronin; Illustrated by Scott Menchin
  • Looking for a Moose by Phyllis Root; Illustrated by Randy Cecil
  • A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom
  • Snowball Fight! by Jimmy Fallon; Illustrated by Adam Stower
  • Starry Safari by Linda Ashman; Illustrated by Jeff Mack
  • Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems
  • Cha-Cha Chimps by Julia Durango; Illustrated by Eleanor Taylor
  • Sakes Alive! A Cattle Drive by Karma Wilson; Illustrated by Karla Firehammer

Official Missouri Building Block Website - Check out the previous years' lists! There are some great books on there for storytime and you might find a new favorite; I know I did.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Is Book-It bad for children?

How many of you did Book-It as a child? I did, and I'm sure many of you did too. Simple concept, read some books, collect little stickers for your button and then eventually get a coupon for a free personal pan pizza. Marvelous. Or not?

Critics Denounce Pizza Hut Reading Program

The criticims make sense at first, but let's break it down.

It is a corporate program and should schools be supporting a corporation? Well... In an ideal world, no, but that isn't the world we live in. Almost every school I know hosts a scholastic book fair and/or passes out those brochures for book orders. It happened when I was a kid, and it still happens. (Often parents bring those in and try to get the books through us and we don't have them for a variety of reasons). It makes money for the school and gets kids a chance to order books, but it also supports one specific corporation and publisher. Schools have partnered with corporations and accepted private support in a variety of ways throughout the year. This is not signifigantly different.

It encourages childhood obesity. Yes childhood obesity is a national epidemic. I'm not arguing that, no one is. The article specifically mentions schools getting rid of soda machines. Soda machines provide daily access to sugary pop. As I recall, you can get two pizzas at most per year. Two little pizzas a year do not make you obese. Nor are parents forced into going to pizza hut. One time, we traded in our coupons to make pizzas with dad. (Dad makes the most marvelous pizzas, he worked as a pizza chef in college). That was a ton of fun. Parents can offer there children an alternative award if they don't want to go to pizza hut.

When children read for a prize, it doesn't make them readers. Basically this is the idea that kids are going to choose the quickest book and just do the minimum they need to get through the program. Perhaps. Some kids will. And the ones who are already good readers don't need this program. But then there are the other kids, the in between ones. Those kids will do it because they want the pizza, and in the process might find that one book, the first book they ever liked to read, the first book they ever read cover to cover. Granted they might find it in a school based awards program, but you never know. Rewards motivate kids, and some kids need that motivation to discover that they might actually like reading. It certainly is better than AR type programs. I would rather reward the children for doing any reading at all than force them into one level. (But you really don't want me to get started on AR. If you don't know about it, thank your lucky stars and move on.)

And I work in a library where we solicit coupons for freebies from businesses to give away as prizes. Schools and libraries don't have enough money for incentives and I'm all about accepting the partnership and rewards from corporations. At the PLA Spring Symposium I was just at, a librarian (perhaps one of the California State Librarians? I'm not sure) was talking about the presence of Coors as a sponser for an adult literacy program. They had to eventually reject them because too many adult learners have struggled with substance abuse in the past and it sent mixed messages. I understand nixing Coors, nor would I be in favor of letting a cigarette company sponser summer reading. But Pizza Hut? I have no problem with.

I personally would be disappointed and saddened to see this program ended. There are some ALA members (though I do not believe the two are officially affiliated) on the board of this program and I would also be saddened to see the ALA make a rash decision to pull out and condemn this program.

Total side note: the photo on this article must be a stock photo. It shows a marine reading to a bunch of kids and has nothing to do with the specific Book-it program.

Friday, March 02, 2007

PLA Spring Symposium - informal

I'm far too tired to keep writing up some highlights of my notes. I'll try to get to those in the morning. This is my first professional event and I am loving it. I keep refering to myself as a 'baby librarian' because I am younger and a new professional. Everyone is wonderfully friendly and open. I'm learning as much from sitting and talking to people as I am from my track on literacy (which is wonderful). People will mention things and I keep stopping to write down recommendations for books, articles, web resources, and programs to look into. I can also tell that one of my main mistakes was not picking up enough business cards. I actually walked out of the library with only three, and walked back in and grabbed some more. But I probably should have gotten more than I did for safety. This is such an amazing time to meet with people and hear what people are doing all over the country (and Canada). There is also a very rejuvenating quality to the chance to meet and laugh with my coworkers. By the end of work today, we were making Dewey Decimal jokes. These people are goofy in the same way I am goofy and I love it.

And from a librarian from Canada, I learned a wonderful new red light game, look at the license plate number (#s part only) of the car in front of you. What dewey subject does that coordinate to? For example, 743 - drawing. Marvelous fun, such a great thing!

PLA Spring Symposium 2007 Day 2 Morning

The workshop on Literacy initiatives has thus far been focused on sucessful programs and the history of how they got there. It is very interesting (and inspiring and frankly a little intimidating). A lot of the presenters are state librarians or work on that level and are discussing state wide programs. I keep reminding myself that it is okay to start small. I've taken pages and pages of notes and my hand is starting to cramp up. I would think about taking my laptop, but it can also be a bit of a distraction. Here are some of the highlights and I believe I have them all associated with the right people.

Susan Hildreth (PLA president and state librarian of California) talked about the new PLA service response that emphasizes literacy for teens and adults and family programs. It is separated out from early childhood literacy. Quite often it is easy to focus on early childhood literacy (as in the absolutely wonderful program Every Child Ready to Read) that these other components get missed. The way that PLA reshaped this service response seems a very good solution to this problem.

According to the National Association of Adult Literacy, 90 million adults (out of 221 million) are at basic or below basic literacy skills. 30 million of those are below basic level. At the basic level you can do some simple tasks like filling out a bank deposit slip, but not much more. Service is needed for adults whose reading level is below that required for entrance in adult educational activities.

Here's a controversial question posed by Gary Strong (UCLA librarian and former state librarian of California): Are libraries educational institutions? For many libraries this seems to be a tricky point. Are we here to provide books and access to information or are we also going to help people read those books and access that information in a more effective and more literate way? My personal opinion: While we can not and should not ever attempt to be schools, there is a place for some educational services such as literacy services in our libraries. This should be in supplement and partnership to those services provided by other agencies. However this is a tricky slippery slope. How much is too much? Is it really ever too much?

While so many people are interested in childhood literacy and early childhood literacy, Robert Wedgeworth (of ProLiteracy Worldwide) repeatedly pointed out that it is the educational level of the parent that most influences the child's literacy abilities. By offering literacy services to adults, we are increasing childhood literacy. This brings us to the idea of family literacy services and that we must (as several of the panel speakers pointed out) provide literacy programs for all ages and that these programs should work together. To paraphrase him (since I'm sure I didn't get an exact quote): No children's literacy program can be completely sucessful without a companion adult program.

I also really liked this: literacy is not just about knowledge, but it enables a better quality of life for your entire family. For example you can monitor your family's health and medications more effectively with a higher level of literacy.

Gary Strong also made an interesting point. Again to paraphrase: Libraries are not an island unto themselves - they can not solve every community problem by themselves. But they can be an amazing force to identify and help solve problems in partnerships. Which leads us to the next question: How do you place the library as a key player in the community?

There was a lot more, that was only the first panel. I only got through about half of my morning notes. I'll try to bring lots more later, but now it is time to head back to my afternoon session.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

PLA Spring Symposium 2007 Day 1

I'm in San Jose, CA for the 2007 PLA Spring Symposium. I got up early today to fly here from Kansas City and arrived mid-day. From there I found the Fairmont hotel (so far no complaints - it is beautiful and well situated downtime), and checked in. A quick check of the schedule told me I had just enough time to make a tour (followed by a lunch) of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library (which is the main branch of the San Jose Public Library). However I hadn't registered. I took a chance and headed over (the four blocks). Luckily they had plenty of room (there were only a few of us and they had planned on many more).

We got a great tour of the library. They have lots of art incorporated throughout the building, but it is concept art and not labelled so you have to look for it. I especially like the shelf unit of books that rotate to reveal a back of trick books. Very cool, especially since it is in the mystery section. The library is a joint effort between the city and San Jose State University. Half the floors are dewey, half are loc. One entrance is a public entrance on the street, the other (directly through the main hall) is an entrance onto the campus. It is a really great partnership. Beautiful library, amazing use of space and also great merchandising of the collection. We then had lunch with staff from the library school and the public library. I had great conversations with my other attendees and their staff. Then there was an open house for the King Library's Adult Literacy center. I'm here for the workshop on literacy initiatives. It was great to see what they're doing and how much they're helping people.

The opening session featured the LJ Librarian of the year who talked about her work in Maryland libraries advocacy and lobbying. It was good and inspiring. I got to talk to some neat people during the desert reception.

Photos of the Symposium - mainly King Library so far.
I tried to get a picture of the very cool counter they have by their circulation desk. It is a large LED screen that continually counts their circulation stats ever since they opened. You can watch it go up as people check stuff out. Fabulous! (The picture isn't that great though).

I could go into more of all that, but I'm tired. It's late by any clock and I've had a long day. I'll try to blog more complete thoughts about the experience later. There is also the official PLA blog to read.

There was an earthquake about 50 miles away, it was a 4.2. I didn't feel anything. I'm almost a little disappointed.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Potty Mouth! For Shame! - Reflections on the Newbery Medal

Heavens to Betsy such a commotion has rippled through the world of children's librarianship that one would think Dr. Seuss had been found alive and well in the woods of Montanna with a case amnesia and a fear of rhyming words. I am of course referring to the use of the word (hold your breath and cover your eyes, this is scary) scrotum in the Newbery Medal book Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Granted the word shows up on the first page, and may not be the most familiar word to kids. It may not also be a word that parents or educators really want to pop up every day in their children's conversations, but it is by no means a word that children should be unfamiliar with. (with which they should be unfamiliar? I hate that ending in a preposition thing.) Off the top of my head, I can think of dozens of words that would be much worse to have on the first page of a book, and I bet you can too. Personally I'm in favor of children and adults using correct medical terminology.

I have not had the fortune to read Higher Power of Lucky yet, but my boss has an advanced reader copy I hope to get my hands on soon. I can not imagine not stocking this book because of one simple word. The librarians who are doing so should have their librarian stripes stripped. Granted, it is easy for me to talk from my large well-funded and well-supported urban library. I'm not dealing with a small town or hugely conservative community. But in all the cases of the book being pulled (and the tons of discussion on PUBYAC), I've not heard of a parent complaint. It seems to primarily be librarians pulling this book pre-emptively to avoid a complaint. Censorship battles can be hard, exhausting, and detrimental to our public image and librarians exist only upon the sufferance of the public good will. Picking your battles is all well and good, but don't retreat before the bugle call has sounded. Stock the book and wait. Most likely I imagine there won't be a huge battle and we'll all move on to more pressing issues. But let us not become our own enemies by censoring our libraries before any one else has the chance. We owe more to our public, we owe them a chance to see all the material and make up their mind about it. Just as we believe that no one group has the right to dictate what stays on the library shelves for the general public and we fight for books such as And Tango Makes Three, we have to remember that librarians don't have the right to censor either.

Ms. Patron - this librarian is with you! (Okay, she may never see this, but I get swept away in my own dramatic speech, in my mind remember I'm issuing a rallying cry, holding books up and fighting the book burners - an active imagination is what makes me a good children's librarian.)

Of course other people have said this much better than I:
Cynthia Lord and the other Newbery Honor Book authors support Susan Patron

Author Neil Gaiman Chimes In

There are many more popping up, but I'll leave you with those two.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I've photo shared before but I was asked to do it again for the sake of library 2.0. I was also asked to take pictures of my favorite place in Kansas City and share them. However this assignment was given in January and February when we've been unusually cold and frigid and covered in ice and snow. So I didn't get to the park like I meant to. Instead you get pictures of the library (see previous post). And I have an online photoalbum.

Check it out! BornLibrarian's Photos!

I created a second professional photo album for similar reasons to why I created a professional blog months ago. This photo album will be a permanent link on the side bar.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Christopher Paul Curtis at Plaza Library

On Friday, February 2nd, 2007, Newbery winning author Christopher Paul Curtis came to the Plaza Library. He gave a great speech which really drew out the teens and kids in the audience. And the audience was packed! He signed books and posed for photos. Such a very nice man.

Here he is signing my book:

Here is very nicely posing with me:

Bigger and more pictures at BornLibrarian's Photobucket/Christopher Paul Curtis

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pandemic Flu and Libraries

Only a few days behind breaking news, but on February 1st, 2007, the CDC, Center for Disease Control released their new recommendations for dealing with a pandemic flu virus. Scariest thing I've read in a long time. Warning, thinking about this too hard will give you nightmares. Failure to think about it may be fatal. Read on or not at your own risk.

I've heard, read, and studied about the 1918 Spanish Influenza Epidemic where huge numbers of Americans died. There is nothing to stop that from happening again. The new recommendations are based in part on studies of that epidemic and how the cities with the lowest mortality rates managed it. Of course some small towns cut off all communication with the outside world entirely.

The new guidelines include a category system to rank the severity of the pandemic. This is similair to the system that exists for hurricaines. Here is a pretty chart with scary black at the top to indicate the most severe and deadly forms.

See that is much scarier than those Homeland Security Levels were when they first came out in 2001. Because those numbers are already assuming that almost 1 in 3 people are sick. Also keep in mind that level one is really just a really bad year of the average flu virus. In an average year 36,000 people die of the flu in the United States.

Quickly some highlights of the new guidelines:
  • Close all the schools for up to three months
  • Encourage "social distancing" which as near as I can tell means that you scare people from having contact with their fellow human beings
  • Stagger work shifts to keep reduce the number of people on public transportation at one time down
  • Close public meeting and gathering places
  • Quarantine an entire household (including healthy people) for up to 10 days if one person becomes ill

One thing to remember is that many of these decisions will be made at a local level because power to do things like close schools remains in the hands of city and county officials. Unless of course things start getting nationalized. And in a national emergency and panic that could happen. That's just as scary to the part of me that fears big government, big brother, federal government, and centralized power.

This sort of thing would be devastating to our country economically, emotionally, and socially. The report specifically mentions encouraging "social distancing" for students (and adults but especially kids) out of school. That means no trips to the mall with your friends. Closing public gathering places means no movie theatres. However the report also mentions closing things such as churches. It means intentionally isolating yourself. Let's not forget the widespread panic that would incur among the general populace. Don't kid yourself, we're a nation of hypochondriacs who are easily driven to fear and irrational behaviors.

This could ruin our economy. Businesses would suffer. No one would go to restaurants, stores, etc., if they could help it. People such as teachers and support staff in schools don't really want to take three months with no pay and taxpayers can't really afford to keep paying them. (Teachers with contracts and unions might be okay, but support staff such as cafeteria workers would not be.) What about students who rely on free lunches (as much as 60% in some urban areas) and breakfasts for their nutrition? Lowered nutrition will result in a weakened immune system and more suseptibility to disease. Plus we do not have enough medical professionals, pharmacies, hospitals, or health facilities and practitioners in general to deal with this. No one in the world has the resources to deal with (almost) 1 in 3 people being sick.

In 1918, the flu spread in from the East Coast. That won't happen this time. It will be everywhere at once thanks to our highly mobile airplane society. It will be an international problem very quickly.

And where does this leave libraries?
Obviously we as libraries are public meeting and gathering places. If we do our job right, we're vibrant communtiy centers, the heart of much of what happens in our world. (Ah, but I wax idyllic.) So do we close? Everyone knows how much of a petrie dish is your average public library. Speaking as a children's librarian, I'm exposed to so many germs every day I'm considering buying stock in sudafed. And if the schools do close (worst case scenario) than we all know that desperate parents may turn to us as drop off points for their children to spend all day (heaven knows it happens in the summer and afterschool). Instead of being at the heart of the information spreading network for the community, we risk being at the heart of the disease spreading network. But we do close? I tend to think of us as being an essential service. For many on the wrong side of the digital divide, we are the only way they have to access the internet, and basic computing programs and word processing. But do I want to (literally) risk my life so someone can type up a resume and online job hunt? Let's not forget I'm the sole breadwinner for my household (which includes me and one cat). I can't afford to be out of work the time of a pandemic, especially if said time is unpaid.

It's not an easy decision. And it isn't pleasant to think about at all.

After the epidemic than what? We have a society in ruins, it's crumpling before our eyes. People have intentionally "socially distanced" themselves, creating isolationism. Our economy would have crumpled. It would be as changing for our society as 9/11. How do we recover? How do we rebuild when we've all been sick and so many of us have died? I know it can be done, I believe in the human spirit and the American spirit, but there is no way we come out unscathed or unchanged. Yes some positive things came out of 9/11, stories of heroism to inspire, a renewed sense of national identity and patriotism. But many negative things came too. The world changes, but it also keeps on turning. Though these reports have an apocalyptic feel to them, we must remember that it might hurt us, but I don't think in the end it could bring us down. In times of great challenges, we've often been surprised at how far we can rise. Even wars can bring about great technilogical and medical innovation. A phoenix can rise from the ash. I need to end positively with the hope that our country could come through this not only alive, but stronger and more unified, because I'm depressing myself thinking about the alternative. As we say in my home state of Kansas (our state motto), Ad Astra Per Aspra, to the stars through difficulties.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


As a continued part of Library 2.0, we were asked to play Runescape which is a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). This is hugely popular with our library kids. After school and on the weekends about half of our comptuers are given over to this game. The kids exchange tips, play together, play against each other, etc. For a computer game, it is a remarkable social event, encouraging real life discussions in addition to the online cooperation. Of course it also starts arguements as kids steal each other's passwords, hack their accounts, etc. I know many librarians hate it and hate the computer time it "wastes". I've never done an RPG or a large computer one like this. I have some friends that do World of Warcraft (which requires the purchase of software and is a subscription based service). Unless we are to block it (which I understand some librarians are doing or are on the verge of doing), it is here to stay. I think it is important that before we block the site or run around prognosticating on the evils of runescape, we should at least try to understand it.

A great deal of reading was recommended to me and I found more on my own.
This article on Runescape from wikipedia is helpful as is the information in the "knowledge base" portion of the runescape website. It is interesting that part of the sucess of this game is that it has a free component and it requires no additional software or downloads but can be played from any web browser. The program is written in java which results in some limits in graphics, but it is fairly good for all that. These are all important elements as to why we see it so much in libraries. My library, like many libraries, blocks all attempts by users to download and save things to computers (an annoying but necessary precaution). Many of our patrons (urban library) do not have computers and/or (high-speed) internet access at home. They would only be able to play a game like this with the conditions (free, works from web browsers) that Runescape provides. Options such as World of Warcraft and Second Life are not a possibility for these kids.

So, my Runescape story...
To begin with I created my character a cute woman/girl with pigtails and a fun blue dress. I named her laughingliz if any of you want to find me online and be my "friend". All that we were required to do for staff day was to make it through tutorial island and add a specific librarian's character as a friend so she would know we really played. All new players are first put in tutorial island which teaches you how to operate controls and perform some simple tasks. They aslo give you various things you will need in the runescape realm. While there are other beginners (or noobs in internet speak) in tutorial island, you do not interact directly with them. I had only a few problems with tutorial island, it didn't seem that much more complicated than Sims which I've played before. There were more controllers and options, all of which are thrown at you at alarming speeds, but other than that it was okay. I was feeling fairly confident because I was having so much less trouble with this than some of my coworkers. And confidence, much like pride, goes before a fall.

With my tutorial island "success", I decided I wanted to understand this whole thing better and I headed off to the real world of runescape to try my hand. I found it very overwhelming at first. I started off as suggested and talked to the various NPCs (non-player characters, basically computer generated characters) to ask for help and advice. There are these tutors and guides. They recommend catching fish or mining to make money. So I caught fish and I mined and I had no idea how that was supposed to become money. In the meantime I was observing the social interactions of my various players (who I guessed were greatly in that teen and tween demographic). I found "listening" to their conversations (which are displayed in text for all to see) one of the most fascinating things. They were recognizing friends, forming groups, social bonds, exchaning myspace pages, etc. Very cool. And since there are no profiles, they accepted me as one of their own and didn't know that I was in fact a 24 year-old librarian spying on them. Marvelous! No clamming up like they normally do when I walk round the bend. In fact I've even had a couple of people offer to be my boyfriend (or bf in internet jargon).

The game is much more chaotic and confusing outside the safety of tutorial island. I had trouble translating skills into money or undertsanding all the steps that go into producing anything, going up levels in various skills, etc. And people kept attacking me! I killed one person and felt just awful about it (I didn't know about running away and he started it) until I realized it was just an NPC. I was rather frustrated about what I should do next as I was having trouble making some of the leaps you need to. I don't like not understanding something or failing at it. My stubborn streak kicked in with a need to "master" or at least get the basics of this game. Fortunately one of my fellow staff members is quite a runescape aficionado and has become my guru. What started out as a simple quest to understand it has turned into a genuine liking for the game. I'm stubborn and wasn't going to give up until I understood the entire thing better and to my surprise it ended up being fun. I don't like fighting other characters or NPCs too well (I've now learned about running away and have been saved a couple of times by other players though I did die once), but I like some of the skills of it and it is just the right balance of mindless/challenging to keep my brain-dead self after work. Unlike many people, I seem to have about a 30 or 45 minute limit for how long I can stand to play. I've played a few times over the last week and a half and managed to raise my skill level in various categories such as cooking, crafting, mining, and smelting. (Numerous attacks finally forced me to spend a little time fighting to raise my levels there, but I didn't like it). I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep playing, but it is sort of fun.

Runescape in Libraries...
Playing runescape has given me a way to talk to kids who've previously been rather wary of librarians as authority figures. In fact one of them is now my runescape friend! I've gone to them for advice and with questions and they like to be able to help the librarian out. Plus it helps me a lot to understand what they're fighting about (in the maybe two incidents we've had over runescape) and what they're doing. I have a lot more respect for the game. Players have to use logic to solve certain puzzles. As you're learning a skill, you will fail a certain number of tries much like in real life. (I've burnt a good deal of bread for example.) That teaches patience and persistence. It takes many steps and some planning to produce some items. Not to mention kids learn computer skills. All of these are good things. Yes, runescape does occupy our computers and our bandwidth, but is it any less valid of a use than some adult who is surfing match.com or playing online chess? (And to be fair I've seen adult patrons who were runescape addicts too). Nope. Plus we're building up kids to like the library as that nice place you can go to play runescape (and maybe since they're already here we can engage them in other activities).

One concern, that fellow Kansas City Public Librarian Clare pointed out in her blog is that according to Runescape rules you have to be 13 to play on the game. (This is because kids uner 13 don't understand the danger of giving personal information online.) To use computers in our kid section you have to be under 13. And yet they're all playing runescape. I was working with a boy today who couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 and yet he's a whiz at Runescape. Here's my thought, it isn't my job to police and enforce the rules that runescape has established. Nor do I want at all to be the evil librarian who prevented the kids from playing a game they love. They'll leave and they won't come back period. I'm not turning them against the library like that. I refuse to be a totalitarian librarian or a parent figure. I'd rather be their friend, help them with the game, with the library, and maybe sneak in a little bit of talk about online security (in brief 45 second bursts). It is something to help our kids be vigilent about, but it isn't ours to enforce. For the most part this game is overly beneficial to our kids, it gets them in the libraries. If librarians give this game a decent chance (I recommend an hour or so, it took me two sessions, maybe 60-75 minutes to get through tutorial island and a little time in the real version of the game) maybe 20 or 3 hours total and it doesn't have to be at once. Even if you don't like it, or don't become a regular player, it will open your eyes to what your kids are doing. You can start conversations with thsoe kids who come in, go straight to the computers, and never talk to you. Ask for help, they'll love it. And I bet they start talking to you more, asking for help with other things, and your relationship with them will expand outside of runescape. This could be a great way to connect to those kids.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

New Harry Potter Date announced

News of this sort spreads wide and quick, but here you go. The seventh (and final) Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be released on July 21st. The price is $34.99 (ouch), though amazon.com is already pre-order selling it for $18.95.

I'm betting Harry dies. It seems as though that would be the only way to properly vanquish Voldemort.

Before placing my amazon.com pre-order, I'll wait to see what Borders does for the pre-order. With the previous two books, I've just pre-ordered through them and picked up day of.

Friday, January 26, 2007

PLA Spring Symposium

I just got approved by my library (which means they pay) to go to the PLA Spring Symposium. Of course I got approved today and today ended the registration, so I had to scramble, but now I have a hotel reservation, conference registration, flight, and I'm so excited.

I'm taking a workshop about literacy and not just early childhood stuff, but lifelong, broad spectrum stuff. It should be really cool.

Very very excited!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Historical Fiction, Mill Workers

I love history and historical fiction. This all started with my father. When we were kids, we would beg our father to tell us a story. Occasionally they were his own far fetched tales that he made up on the spot, but usually they were some historical event. Instead of starting a story with Once upon a time, in a land far, far away..., he would start with, "About a hundred and fifty years ago, Texas was part of Mexico..." and then would come the story of the Alamo, or Valley Forge, or the Rolling Stones at Altamont, you never knew. This gave me my great love for history because I never saw it as dates and names, I saw it as stories. Historical fiction is just telling those stories.

There are tons of options for historical fiction in the third to sixth grade range. Even through high school, there are lots of options. Here is what I've been reading lately and comparing it to some classics in various time periods. I'll probably stretch this out over several posts.

Mill Workers/Turn of the Century

Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop. Wendy Lamb Books, 2006.
I already talked about this a little in my entry on the Mock Newbery candidates. Here is the story of Grace who must leave school to work in the mill to help her family. She wants to be someone her mother can count on, but she also isn't sure about what she is giving up by leaving school. It is illegal for her and the other children to be in the mill so young, but no one enforces that. When people try to change it, Grace finds herself torn. Inspired by a picture of a girl working in the mill, this book does an amazing job of capturing life in a cotton mill in 1910. The author's note is amazing and gives historical details on both the mills and the photographer who captured images of the children working. Grace doesn't always know what she wants and the reader can easily see what a confusing time it would have been.

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson. Clarion Books, 2006.
It goes against the grain to say anything against the amazing Katherine Paterson. She has given us so many fabulous books over the years. From any other writer, this book would be good. From Ms. Paterson, it is merely okay. I'd never heard of the Bread and Roses strike in the Lawrence mills of 1912, but I found it a fascinating subject. Before reading the book, I read up on the strike in various sources (okay mainly wikipedia). It was revolutionary not just because it was led by women, but because it united so many different immigrant groups. Speeches were translated into more than forty languages, people worked together, stood together, took care of each other, and won. All of that would have been nice to see in the book. The story follows Jake and Rosa who are sent away from Lawrence to stay with other families for the duration of the strike. It is told in alternating viewpoints of the two children. It's good, Rosa and Jake both show plausible character development. But if you want to read about mill workers and you want to read Paterson, read the true classic.

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson. Dutton, 1991
There are multiple covers of this book, so no picture of the cover. I read this as a child, and re-read it as an adult. It is set in an earlier time (1840s) than the other two and is less about workers' rights and more just about mill life. Lyddie is an impoverished, uneducated girl who leaves the farm to work in the mill. She betters herself through hardwork, determination, and education. The main character is also older than the other two books. Here Lyddie is self-sufficient and in some ways caring mostly for her family (before they are disbanded). She is functioning as an adult. It is still a very accurate picture of mill life and better written than the other two.

For kids I would recommend the books in this order, but that is just my personal preference. I might just recommend the one that comes to hand first.
  1. Counting on Grace
  2. Lyddie
  3. Bread and Roses, Too

That isn't to say any of these books were bad. Even if my criticisms seemed negative, I enjoyed all of these books and would recommend any of them. These are all appropriate historical fiction choices for upper elementary students, but would probably primarily appeal to girls.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cynthia Lord of Rules

I've already mentioned how much I love Cynthia Lord's book Rules. It won a Newbery honor and a Schneider Family Book Award (for raising awareness of a disability). The book is very powerful.

Over at her journal/blog, Ms. Lord writes about winning the Newbery and what it means to her. This is an especially important book since she has a son with autism and a daughter who inspired the main character.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Reviews of Mock Newbery candidates

This is a bit anti-climatic in the event of the announcement of the actual awards, but I typed up most of this before the awards were announced, just hadn't posted it yet.

In a previous post, I posted results for the various mock awards. In the spirit of continuing to earn library 2.0 prizes and sharing, I am going to explain in greater detail what happened at our Mock Newbery and give (brief) reviews and thoughts on the books.

Unlike the real committee, we couldn't all read all of the books out in the year. Instead we focused on a short list chosen because of good reviews and availability. It is a sad truth that libraries don't always receive books in a timely fashion. In theory everyone there, and we had about 14 people, had read all of the books. In reality everyone read as many of them as they could. We then went around and discussed each book in turn. We then did a round of voting for which ones would stay on the table to be still considered. I have bolded and starred* those below which made it past our first cut. Here are my thoughts on them and some of our discussions. Very brief reviews because there are so many of them.

Mock Newbery Nominees:
  • The Wright 3 by Blue Balliet
    Summary in brief: Three kids solve a mystery to save a Frank Lloyd Wright house. It's a sequel to Chasing Vermeer which I haven't read.
    Review: I didn't like this book. To be fair, I don't like mysteries. However I thought this book just dragged on and on. I was listening to it on CD and it was like pulling teeth to get through it. The author could not decide if she was writing a mystery or a supernatural mystery and it was confusing as it veered between the two. The only good part about the book was the developing relationship between the three kids. At the end, all of the resolution came very quickly without warning. It was far too abrupt and jarred the reader. Of course then the book continued on for chapters with little points. Other people liked the book (a little) better than me, but not much.
  • Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos*
    Summary in brief: After 9/11 a Muslim family living illegally in the United States tries to go to Canada only to have the father arrested and tried.
    Review: People thought this book was fabulous. I thought it was okay. It was timely and it is nice to seek a book from the Muslim point of view. The author did a good job of showing the grey areas of the law, that the family understood that they had been breaking the law for years by staying on an expired visa. I'm not sure how readable this book will be in fifty years. While it made it past our first round, it didn't get many votes.
  • Victory by Susan Cooper*
    Summary in brief: Two stories told side by side in differing views, one of a modern girl who has moved from England to America and is having trouble adjusting and one of a boy pressed into the English Royal Navy in 1803 aboard the ship Victory.
    Review: I had not read this at the time of the discussion, but I have since finished it. I liked it very much. The naval history was amazing. I believe the book would appeal to both girls and boys. Our only male at our discussion pushed hard for this book. Flaws: the girl's story is not as fleshed out, and the supernatural vision that brings them together at the end is a little unrealistic.
  • Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman
    Summary in brief: A girl growing up in California in the middle of the Red Scare meets a new friend, learns about thinking for yourself, standing up for what is right, and the Hollywood blacklist.
    Reviews: I thought this was a very good book. The character was an 8th grader which is exactly when children really start to question that which their parents are teaching them. The questioning of the daughter and increasing fear and confusion of everyone in her life is shown in exactly the right amount of downward sliding slope and scale. Some of the people felt that the Catholic school nuns were depicted too harshly from their experiences, however others felt it was pretty accurate from their experiences. I liked this book a great deal and felt it would appeal to girls in about the fifth or sixth grade. It bored one of my coworkers. However, it wasn't spectacular and nothing that deserved the Newbery Medal.
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo*
    Summary in brief: A chnia rabbit is greatly loved by his owner and he only cares for himself. Eventually he is separated from her, goes through a great journey, and learns to love.
    Reviews: No question about it, Ms. DiCamillo can write. This book is fabulous, beautiful. It has the feel of a classic, very much as The Velveteen Rabbit is. Our male member thought that this book was too "precious" a book that appeals to middle aged women (who lets face it are the ones giving the awards for the most part) and they hope it appeals to kids. The school librarians said the kids are split on love/hate it. So are many of the adults. I loved the illustrations, except for the one illustration that looks like a crucification. While the ending seemed predictable (and trite) to me (though I loved it and cried, but I'm a sucker who cries at Hallmark commercials), others were surprised by it. I feel like this book should get some sort of award or we're ignoring something really obvious.
  • Weedflower by Cynthia Kadhata
    Summary: A Japanese girl in an internment camp during WWII.
    Review: I haven't read this one. No one liked it well enough to keep it on the table.
  • Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd
    Summary in brief: A girl comes of age while her town is in the middle of the Scopes Monkey Trial and she begins to doubt her father who organized it and everything she has been taught.
    Review: It was well written and very largely based on historical fact. The largest change was that the main character was quite younger in real life than in the book. The author's note is fantastic, possibly the best part of the book. I can't remember reading a lot of historical fiction books about this particular subject which makes it unique and valuable. However I felt that some of the author's slams against Christianity were unnecessarily harsh and unwarranted to make his point.
  • Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
    Summary in brief: A year in the life of a Taiwanese-American girl adjusting to the United States and American lifestyle.
    Review: The Newbery medal is awarded for the most distinguished piece of children's literature. Many of the books on this list are distinguished. This one is a nice book, a sweet book, and completely not distinguished. No one at our session had much of anything to say about it past that. I am not sure why it was on our list. Good points: based on the author's own experiences and the picture book the character writes in the story is an actual picture book the author has written. That's a fun tie in.
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord*
    Summary in brief: A girl tries to help her autistic brother learn to deal with the world by writing rules for him. She also tries to make a new friend, lead a normal life, and reconcile her feelings for a handicapped boy she has recently met.
    Review: I loved this book. It was my favorite on the list (before I read Victory and it is still my favorite, but it a close thing) and I fought hard for it. The rates of autistic children (or at least the rates of diagnosis) are increasing in our society. More and more of these children are being mainstreamed into classrooms. It is very possible that students will know or know of an autistic child. The book was at times funny and heartbreakingly poignant. (Now did that sound like a cliched movie review or what?) It is amazing to watch the main character deal with her feelings for brother and her attempts to be normal and have normal friends. These things aren't easy to reconcile and Catherine doesn't always do it perfectly. The ending isn't perfect, but she does grow, and it is real. I think everyone should read this book.
  • Gossamer by Lois Lowry*
    Summary in brief: Two magical creatures give dreams to an old woman and an abused boy.
    Review: Well, when I summarize it like that, it doesn't sound like much. But it is. Ms. Lowry has once again taken a slim volume and created a masterful work. As the creatures discover their existence and point of view they struggle to create nice dreams for their charges. They also go up against the creatures that give nightmares. It is a well-fleshed out book for being so short a tome and well written and distinguishe. Our only male representitive thought it was again too precious.
  • Out of Patience by Brian Meehl*
    Summary in brief: Jake lives in a dying town in Western Kansas. There is a propehcy that the town will be destroyed when the plunger of destiny returns.
    Review: I loved this book. It's fun and funny. I fought for this one too, but not as hard as for Rules.
  • Jazz by Walter Dean Myers
    Summary in brief: A collection of poems about Jazz music.
    Review: It's pretty and the poems are nice, but this book didn't quite jive for me. I'm not sure why, but it seemed like something I've before time and again.
  • Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim
    Summary in brief: The true story of a librarian who kept in touch with many of her former students after they had been taken to internment camps for being Japanese during WWII.
    Review: I skimmed this book to be honest. It seemed pretty good.
  • Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex
    Summary in brief: A series of poems about various monsters.
    Review: Cute, I especially liked the ones where the Phantom of Menace can't get various silly tunes out of his head. It's a picture book basically, and not particularly noteworthy.
  • Bella At Midnight by Diane Stanley*
    Summary in brief: A girl grows up in a kingdom during a time of war as a best friend of a prince. She discovers she is actually not a commoner and helps to overcome the war and help her friend the prince.
    Review: Loved this book. I kept trying to make it a traditional fairy tale, and that never quite worked. There were definitely elements of one fairy tale or the other, but it isn't a specific fairy tale. The magic elements worked as did the human elements. I book talked this book sucessfully to fifth and sixth grade kids.
  • Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop*
    Summary in brief: Grace is a mill worker in a cotton mill. She struggles to balance her desire to help support her family with her desire to better herself.
    Review: I love historical fiction so I am pre-disposed to like it. I loved this book, thought it was wonderful. And the author's note is amazing. The author's note is the best part of the book.
  • Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson