Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Secrets & Sharing Soda's Books of the Year (2013)

With the end of the year less than 24 hours away, it's time to look back on this year's reading and announce my picks for Secrets & Sharing Soda's books of the year.

In previous years, I have set specific reading goals (last year, I aimed to read 1500 books, for example), but this year I decided to give myself a break and just read, without worrying about reaching a particular number. In the end, I wound up reading 729 books that I had never read before, and an additional 210 which were repeat reads. Here is how the 729 break down by category:

From these books, I have selected favorites in five categories based on four main factors: literary quality, kid appeal, my personal feelings about the book, and its suitability for use in library programs and book talks. (This last factor was not weighed as heavily as the others.) Each category features a top favorite and three honorable mentions, because I could never choose just one favorite book! Links will take you to my reviews, if available, or to my posts about the book in my story time blog and on Goodreads.

Favorite Young Adult Contemporary Novel
by Elizabeth Eulberg

Honorable Mention:

Favorite Middle Grade Novel
by Kirkpatrick Hill; illustrations by LeUyen Pham
(Henry Holt & Co.)

Honorable Mention:

Favorite Chapter Book
by Graham Salisbury, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers
(Wendy Lamb Books)

Honorable Mention:

Favorite Easy Reader
by Grace Lin 
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Honorable Mention: 

Favorite Picture Book
If You Want to See a Whale
by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
(Roaring Brook Press)
Honorable Mention: 

Thank you so much for following Secrets & Sharing Soda through its third year! I look forward to starting year four tomorrow. In the meantime, take a look back at my favorite books of 2011 and my favorite books of 2012. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ten Picture Books to Welcome Winter

Though Winter officially starts up in December, wintry weather often doesn't hit until January, so I like to save this story time theme for after the holidays.  Here are ten great picture books celebrating the season of Winter. 

by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
How will the town of Toby Mills survive this cold snap? Watch as the whole community finds ways to keep warm, culminating in a toasty celebration organized by the mayor's wife. This is a longer book best suited to school groups and preschoolers with sizeable attention spans. It works in story time, but for kids to get the full effect of everything happening in the illustrations, they'd need to sit with it one on one. 

by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Pauline and her brother John-John learn a lot about making money, advertising,  and supply and demand when they decide to open a lemonade stand in the dead of winter. I have read this to pre-K classes in the past with great results. They don't quite follow the money-counting aspects of the story, but they do pick up on a lot of  the business practices used by the characters.

Owl Moon
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
There is no better read-aloud for Winter than this book. Kids of all ages respond to the poetic text and the gorgeous artwork, and it feels fresh every time I read it aloud.

Winter Lullaby
by Barbara Seuling, illustrated by Greg Newbold
Find out where the animals go in winter in this simple rhyming story. This book works well with toddlers, especially, but preschoolers, too, might like to call out the name of each animal and where it spends the winter months.

A Little Bit of Winter
by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
When Hedgehog must hibernate, he asks Rabbit to save him a little bit of Winter for when he wakes up, but Rabbit finds this easier said than done. This book has enough of a plot that preschoolers don't get bored, but it's still short enough to hold the attention of twos and threes who might not be that familiar with sitting for longer stories.

by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
A family living inside a long-neglected snow globe longs for it to snow,  as do the big people who live in the house where the snow globe is kept. When snow falls, the Baby who lives in the house finds the snow globe and the family's wish finally comes true. This is a good school-age read-aloud. I especially like to ask kids in Pre-K through Grade 2 what would happen if they lived in a snow globe. They always give great, insightful answers.

by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
See what happens underground and in the snow itself in this picture book all about animals who do and do not hibernate.  The pictures in this one make it stand out, though the text might be a bit much for the average preschool group. Animal lovers will enjoy it as a one-on-one read.

by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
This oldie-but-goodie Caldecott winner narrates one community's response to a snowy day and shows how the neighborhood looks all covered in snow. 

by David A. Johnson
This book tells the story of a snow day using only onomatopoeia. Story time groups love to make the sounds of the plow and various other vehicles that appear in the illustrations. This book pairs well with the poem "Ears Hear" by Lucia and James L. Hymes, Jr.

by Lita Judge
This mostly-wordless picture book  shows what happens when a child leaves a sled out overnight and the animals take a turn riding it. Similar to Duck on a Bike, but with a winter spin.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reflections on Library Service to Toddlers

I have been working with toddlers almost my entire adult life, but never in such great numbers or in such an unstructured environment as in the public library. For the purposes of this post, I am defining toddlers as children who walk but who have not yet passed their third birthday, because this is how I separated toddlers from babies and preschoolers when I asked folks to register for toddler story time. Below are some general lessons I have learned from interacting with toddlers both in and out of the story time room.

  • Toddler Tip #1: Communicate behavior expectations to parents and caregivers.
    Toddlers are just beginning to learn about boundaries, and their grown-ups are often just learning how to enforce them. While the rules of the library might seem like second nature to those of us who are in the library all day, that might not be the case for parents of toddlers. Instead of waiting for a rule to be broken before broaching the subject, the best thing to do is to make your behavior guidelines as clear and conspicuous as possible. A great way to do this is with signs, handouts, and story time announcements. And remember not to just focus on the negative. We do want to discourage running, removing shoes, and climbing shelves, but we also want to encourage enthusiastic story time participation and socializing with other kids during story time sessions. By letting the adults know what is and is not okay, we empower them to help their kids learn to follow those rules.
  • Toddler Tip #2: Don’t contribute to a meltdown.
    Being a toddler can be tough! Communication is still tricky for kids in this age range, and life is full of frustrations. Because of this, toddlers often have tantrums and meltdowns right in the library. While this is sometimes unavoidable, I have found that it is best for a librarian to make sure she is not contributing to the situation. I have always worked in libraries where eating has not been allowed. Not everyone knows this, though, so I have often been faced with the delicate situation of having to let a mom know her daughter isn't supposed to have that slice of banana she just handed her. I have worked with some staff members whose zero tolerance approach to eating would demand that Mom take that banana away from her child. I tend to be more lenient, telling the parent that she doesn't have to take the food away from the child right now, but that next time, she should be aware that food isn't allowed. Parents appreciate a little understanding, and that kind of goodwill gesture often makes them more likely to comply with rules in the future. (I also think it is sometimes easier to clean smooshed banana out of the carpet than it is to listen to the child scream for 30 minutes!)
  •  Toddler Tip #3: Provide opportunities for movement.
    Toddlers are busy people with loads of energy and short attention spans. One way to engage them is to put yourself in motion. Toddler story times are chaotic by definition, but movement activities provide a little method for the madness. Try repeating the same familiar action rhymes and songs at each session, using basic movements - clapping, stomping, tapping knees, nodding head, waving -  that most kids can learn to imitate fairly easily. Whereas in preschool story time, you might use movement activities to calm kids between books, in toddler story time, movement should be the main focus. Acting out books, dancing with scarves or other props, and generally keeping things high-energy keeps the kids focused and eases your frustrations when the kids just won't sit still for a book.
  • Toddler Tip #4: Bring enough for everyone.
    Toddlers love to handle things like puppets, crayons, flannel board pieces, and other story time and library props. To truly get them excited, provide individual copies of things for the kids to handle. In my toddler story times, there is always one segment where every child gets to hold onto a prop as we dance and sing. The kids don't tend to be too particular about what they get to hold, as long as everyone gets one. I have used various foam shapes, homemade shaker eggs, hand puppets, and even paper snowflakes. To ensure that everything comes back to you with minimal fuss, turn cleaning up into a game and make it a routine part of story time. We always sing a clean-up song then applaud loudly when everything is put away. (But remember - meltdowns happen easily, so if one child wants to hang onto his foam star a little bit longer, it's usually best to just let him do that until story time is over.)
  • Toddler Tip #5: Go with the flow.
    Toddlers are the least predictable library patrons, with the possible exception of teens and the mentally ill. Planning toddler programming can seem like a headache, especially if you expect your plan to come off without a hitch. The best way to interact with toddlers is to follow their lead. If it's a sleepy kind of day, play quieter games and read a few cozy books. If everyone's climbing the walls, it might be a day to save the books and instead take out shakers, the parachute, or some bubbles. 
By having lots of toddler-friendly activities in your arsenal, and being prepared to let a few things go to keep the peace, your library will be a place where toddlers are free to explore, learn, and be themselves, and where they will gain a love of reading that will far outlast their tricky toddler years.

Monday, December 16, 2013

LibraryAdventure.com: Tips for Playing the Ukulele at Story Time

Do you play the ukulele at story time? Would you like to start? Today, I'm at The Library Adventure with some quick tips for playing the uke in a story time setting, along with links for chords and songs.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ten Picture Books That Are Secretly Easy Readers

It is usually pretty easy to identify an easy reader. Most of them are paperbacks, in a compact size, with a reading level printed on the spine and/or front cover. Many libraries shelve them separately as well, in an area apart from picture books and novels. Beginning readers can easily find their section and browse for books. But this does not mean that the only suitable books for beginning readers are the ones labeled as such. In fact, there are lots of great books that I have always shelved in the picture book section that are actually also perfect for kids who are learning how to read. Here are ten examples, listed in order of difficulty according to the Guided Reading system.

by Chris Raschka
Guided Reading Level: C
In very few words, two boys from obviously different backgrounds form a friendship. This would be a good one to use in a beginning reader story time setting, because the words on each page are large enough for everyone in a group to see them at once.

by Eric Carle
Guided Reading Level: C
 This has recently been published as an easy reader, but whenever it's checked out, the picture book version does just as well. The only problem is that kids might have it memorized so it might not be a good one to measure how much they are actually able to read.
by Antoinette Portis
Guided Reading Level: F
This book encourages kids to think outside the box - literally - by showing them how to use a cardboard box in a number of creative ways. There is very little text, and what is on the page is pretty repetitive, but kids I've read it with have talked about it for weeks afterward.  There are also a number of related printables on the publisher's website to extend the discussion after the initial reading is over.

by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Guided Reading Level: G
Midge, Pip, and Dot idolize Rooster Sam because they believe he can fly. They try to fly, too, but no matter what, they just can't seem to get the hang of it. The big, bold font, brightly colored illustrations, and great sense of humor make this a natural choice for beginning readers, especially those who like a good laugh as a payoff for their hard work.
by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Guided Reading Level: G
Various nursery rhyme characters hide on the pages of this book. The reader has a chance to play I Spy  while decoding the simple rhyming text. This book is probably best for kids who already know some nursery rhymes so they might recognize their names in print even if they're tricky to sound out.

by Jules Feiffer
Guided Reading Level: H
Animal names and sounds make up the majority of  the text in this book, and there is lots of repetition, making it just as ideal for new readers as for preschoolers. Kids will love laughing along with the silliness of the story and they might even want to perform it for others.

by Audrey and Don Wood
Guided Reading Level: I
I have used this book with beginning readers as a flannel board, and I've found that kids in first and second grade are the ones who can read every word. It's a great one for introducing adjectives and similes all at once, and the kids I shared it with loved guessing which animal was coming up next.
by Pat Hutchins
Guided Reading Level: J
This is another repetitive story, and it combines literacy with simple math skills. Though I have used it successfully with preschoolers, early elementary school kids are the most likely to understand the math concepts and to be able to calculate the number of cookies each child should get each time someone new joins the party. This is another one that would work well in a beginning reader story time setting, especially if the kids were able to come in and out of  the room and act out the story.

by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak
Guided Reading Level Not Available

This strange little book is one I like to quote frequently. It's a great lesson in rhyming words, simple verbs, and prepositions, and the illustrations are reminiscent of Sendak's work in Where the Wild Things Are. It doesn't have much of a plot, but new readers will find they can read or sound out most of the words - even the ones in speech bubbles. Though I could not find a reading level for this book, I think it is probably a kindergarten or first grade book.

by Jan Thomas
Guided Reading Level: N
This fun book helps kids understand the concept of rhyme and plays into their silly sense of humor at the same time. Most Jan Thomas picture books are great for beginning readers; many of the jokes might even be lost on a younger audience. (Based on the Guided Reading level, this would work best as a reader for a child who is just about ready to graduate to chapter books, making it the most challenging book on the list.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

At the Children's Desk: A Day of Questions


In the weeks before I left my job, my duties away from the reference desk began to dwindle, and I started really focusing my attention on answering questions. There were several days in September and early October where I was on the desk more often than I was not, and on those days, I took notes, keeping track of every question I was asked, and by whom. Today's post focuses on the questions I handled on a typical Thursday (September 12, 2013) when I was working alone in the children's department. I mostly let the questions speak for themselves because they're more interesting - and funnier - that way, but I have included some notes in brackets where necessary.

9:30 a.m. - LIBRARY OPENS

9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

  • Parent: My wife told me to sign up for this thing at 11:00. Can I do that with you? 
  • Parent: My daughter is in third grade, and she has this geometry homework. [She showed me a worksheet where shapes needed to be sorted into Venn diagrams.] Do you have books on that? 
  • Senior Citizen Woman: Do you have Wild by Cheryl Strayed? How about anything by Robin Cook? What about Whiskey Beach? Will you notify me when my hold comes in? 
  • Pre-K Teacher, via phone: Can I set up a time to bring my pre-K class over for story time? 
  • Woman: What is today's date? 
  • Senior Citizen Woman: I didn't find Whiskey Beach. Are you sure it's here?

10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

  • Parent: Can you find me some Thomas books that are level one?
  • Parent/Nanny: Where do you keep your level 4 easy readers?
  • Parent: Do you have Fall books? Do you have I Spy books?

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. LUNCH

12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

  • Homeschooled Child: Do you have the first two books in the Warriors series?  Do you know what the second Redwall book is called?

1:30 p.m. -  2:30 p.m.

  • Homeschooled Child: Do you know where I could find the movie Eragon?
  • Teacher: Do you have the Carl books? [For clarification, I asked, "Eric Carle?"] No, you know, the rottweiler?

2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

  • Child: The computer [AWE Early Literacy Station] isn't playing any sound!
  • Adult: I was looking for the third book in the Song of the Lioness series. Is it here?
  • Adult: I'm having trouble placing a hold on Born Standing Up. Can you do it for me?
  • Parent: If I borrow a Harry Potter DVD, and it's late, is that treated as a children's item or an adult item for my late fee?
  • Child: Can you go on the computer without a library card?
  • Middle Schooler, tattling: He's trying to get her to sell him cookies! 
  • Adult: Do you know where the medium conference room is?
  • Child: Can I borrow a headset?
  • Middler Schooler: The boy sitting next to me is pulling my chair back when I'm sitting in it.
  • Parent: Did my son pull his chair?
  • Adult: Where do I return books?
  • Adult: Where is the medium conference room?
  • Adult: Is the only printer you have the one that is out of order? Where can I fax?
  • Parent, with two kids: Do you have two pencils we can borrow?

3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

  • Child: Can I borrow a pencil?
  • Child: Do you have anymore notebooks like this one on your desk?
  • Child: Can I borrow a pencil?
  • Child: Can I have a bookmark?
  • Parent: Where are the Thomas the Tank Engine books?
  • Middle schooler: Safari is frozen and I can't log out of my computer.
  • Middler schooler, complaining about another middle schooler: He's taking pictures of me, and I want him to stop.
  • Staff Member: Do you know where the Star Wars DVDs are for kids?
  • Parent: You're not really monitoring what these kids do on the computers, are you?
  • Child: Do you have any books by John Green?
  • Middle Schooler, holding bottle of Dawn dish soap: I found this on the floor.
  • Child: Do you have the movie Happily Never After II?
  • Middle Schooler: Can I have this comic book?
  • Middle Schooler: There was dish soap on the floor over there and now it's gone!
  • Child: How do I log out of this computer?
  • Middle Schooler (who was earlier taking pictures): Are we having a tornado?
  • Parent: I don't have my library card. Can I check out if I just give them my name?
  • Child: Where are the chapter books for kids?
  • Child: Do you have comic books at this library?
  • Child: Where are the books about fairies for kids?
  • Child, sibling of previous child: Where are the fairy books?
  • Child: Did you find a clarinet?

4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.

  • Child: Do you have to check out this magazine?
  • Parent: Can we just set our stuff here while we use the bathroom?

5:30 p.m. - LIBRARY CLOSES

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