Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reflections on Library Service to a Summer Reading Scammer

Over the past couple of weeks, librarians on PUBYAC and Facebook have been discussing email correspondence they have received from a teen in California, who, for the second year in a row,  has signed up for multiple summer reading programs across the country and then contacted libraries asking to have his prizes sent out-of-state to him. Responses from librarians have been fascinating. Some commend the young man for his out-of-the-box thinking and his devotion to libraries. Others call him a scammer, insisting that he is trying to cheat libraries out of their prizes. I saw one post suggesting that all libraries respond to his emails with cat memes to get him to end contact, and another bragging about asking him meaningless questions over email (presumably to troll him and see if he will give up or reveal himself as a fraud.) The teen himself (whose name I have omitted to protect what little privacy he has left in the library world) claims that his registering for multiple summer reading programs is part of a contest he has going on with his friends. He has supplied the rules for the contest, one of which is to be persistent in "begging" libraries to send some small token to mark the completion of the program even if they initially refuse to send prizes.

I can't tell, based on the comments I've read, whether this so-called scammer's heart is in the right place or not. It does seem that he is legitimately a teenager, so it is possible that much of this is just the behavior of an immature kid with too much time on his hands. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is how librarians are (over)reacting to the emails. Frankly, many librarians are handling their encounters with him in ways that are completely at odds with the spirit of librarianship. Because I am not working in a library right now, I am not likely to be contacted by him myself. I want to share, however, how I would treat him in the event that I did receive one of his emails.

First, I would act under the assumptions that his request is legitimate and that his intentions, good or bad, are not really my business. This teen's question, essentially, is whether he can receive summer reading prizes from a library of which he is not a member, which is located in a community in which he does not reside. My answer to this question doesn't need to be emotional. Either my library allows prizes to be awarded to non-residents, or it doesn't. Libraries may not have a specific policy to address this issue, but they do have precedents based on what they have done in past years. It is perfectly fair to argue that summer reading prizes, which have been purchased with library budgets approved by local taxpayers, can only be awarded to residents of the library's service area. A polite email to this effect, citing any pertinent article numbers from the library's policy documents, is all that is really required. Becoming offended by his request is not only silly and a waste of energy, but poor library service as well. A librarian does not get to decide which questions are worthy of her time. She should receive the questions, provide the requested information, and move on.

Second, I would send this young man a PDF document containing a certificate of completion for the summer reading program. It wouldn't cost me anything to send the attachment, so I wouldn't be placing an undue burden on my library budget. Furthermore, sending the certificate would reflect well on the library. Maybe this teen really is an internet troll, looking to score free stuff and make fools out of librarians. If this is the case, librarians only help him succeed by reacting unprofessionally with anger and online gossip.  The professional reaction is to honor his request as best you can. Offering the certificate shows you can rise above whatever negative feelings you might have about the young man and his behavior, and it shows that your library is non-judgmental and welcoming. It also takes about five minutes, which is a lot less time than it takes to bad-mouth a teenage boy to colleagues and respond to his emails with memes and nonsensical arguments.

Third, after I had answered his question, and determined there was nothing further I could do for him, I would simply stop responding to any additional emails he sent. There is a point with every pushy patron, both in person and online, when you have to end the conversation and move on to assisting other patrons and focusing on tasks that benefit the library as a whole. If I've explained library policy and sent the teen a certificate, and then let him know there is nothing more available to him as a non-resident of my library's service area, I have satisfactorily answered his question. If I have nothing else to say, even if he provokes me to engage in an argument with him, I should have the restraint, as someone who works in customer service, not to let him bring me down to that level.

The bottom line is that it's not inherently offensive for a kid like this, or anyone else, to ask the library to do something above and beyond its capabilities. There is no reason to respond to this teen with anymore anger or frustration than you would have for a patron who wishes to use the public fax machine that you do not have or to borrow the book version of Stuart Little 2 which does not exist. Saying no with kindness is a key part of library customer service, and that's all anyone who doesn't want to send a prize to an unknown teen in California needs to do. Good customer service, even to a patron who might not be completely genuine, never harms your library, and it never harms you. The best thing you can do is offer what you can give, calmly state what you can't, and then forget about the interaction and move on to the next. Doing anything else is a waste of energy, and a waste of time librarians could be spending serving their local patrons.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers, May 2016

There is great variety among this month's reviews - books in graphic format, new volumes in favorite series, and new series to discover.  Enjoy!

Easy Readers

Liz's Book Snuggery reviewed two blasts from the past: The Carrot Seed and Are You My Mother? 

Jean Little Library featured two "Small Readers" posts:  Max Spaniel: Dinosaur Hunt and
Humphrey's Playful Puppy Problem.

Step Up Readers had a review of the latest title in the Biscuit series, Biscuit Feeds the Pets, as well as a review of When Andy Met Sandy, the first book in Tomie dePaola's newest series.

Both No Time for Flashcards and Literary Hoots had posts wishing a fond farewell to the Elephant and Piggie series with reviews of The Thank You Book. (Literary Hoots also reviewed Dig, Dogs, Dig.)

Finally, Shelf Employed reviewed Big Dog and Little Dog Making a Mistake  and Sal's Fiction Addiction reviewed The Real Poop on Pigeons.

Chapter Books

Ms. Yingling Reads and Mom Read It both reviewed a re-released vintage book originally published in 1958, The Great Mouse Detective: Basil of Baker Street. 

Ms. Yingling also reviewed two books in the My Weird School Fast Facts series: Sports and Geography, as well as Weekends with Max and His Dad, which was also featured at Readerkidz and here at Story Time Secrets.

My other chapter book reviews this month were Stella and the Night Sprites: Knit-Knotters and Logan Pryce Makes a Mess.

There were also two Princess in Black reviews this month: Perfect Princess Party at Provo City Library Children's Book Review and Hungry Bunny Horde at Sal's Fiction Addiction.

Other chapter books this month included:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, May 2016 - Board Book Review Bonanza!

What have we been reading lately? Tons of board books! Most are physical review copies from Little Bee Books, but there are also a few digital ARCs I downloaded from NetGalley. Read on to find out which one the girls have enjoyed most.

My First Vehicles by Max and Sid (9781499801880)
My First Sounds by Max and Sid (9781499801873)
My First Animals by Max and Sid (9781499801859)
My First Opposites by Max and Sid (9781499801866)

These four small square board books are ideal for Little Bo Peep, who loves handling books. She pushes them across the floor, bangs on their covers, and coos and giggles at the illustrations. Like most word books for this age, they are also great for introducing basic vocabulary, and encouraging me to say words like balloon, rocket, and hen that might not otherwise come up in daily conversation. Each illustration has some sections that are shiny and metallic, which catch the light and grab the baby's attention, and the pictures are generally brightly colored and clearly outlined. What I had not counted on, though, was how wonderful these same books would be for teaching Miss Muffet her letters. The words on each page of each book are printed in lower case letters in a perfect font for young children who are just beginning to recognize individual letters. I am able to read these books successfully with both girls simultaneously. While Bo Peep gets exposed to new words and engaging images, Miss Muffet also has the chance to practice her new skills. Of the four, my personal favorite is My First Sounds because it has a unique onomatopoetic expression for the sound of a fire engine ("nee naw"), but My First Opposites is the one Miss Muffet has taken to her bedroom to have on hand at rest time.

Farm Animals by Peter Curry (9781499801989)
Zoo Animals by Peter Curry (9781499802610)
Cars and Trucks by Peter Curry (9781499801996)
Trains, Boats, and Planes by Peter Curry (9781499802627)

The four books in this set are larger than the My First books above, but similar in scope and content. The illustrations are a bit more generically cartoonish, and there are two or three words per page, rather than just one, but they focus on the same subject matter. Both Farm Animals and Zoo Animals are predictably similar to other books of their type, and therefore hard to connect with in a special way. There are some pages in the Zoo Animals book that lend themselves well to encouraging movement, which is great for getting Miss Muffet involved, but since not all of the animals move, it's hard to apply that technique throughout the book. The titles about vehicles were a bigger necessity in our house, as our only real books on vehicles are Stanley and Mr. Gumpy titles. I like the diversity of vehicles included in Cars and Trucks: a taxi, a race car, a delivery van, etc. and the fact that suggested sounds are included as part of the illustrations. Trains, Boats, and Planes also does a nice job of introducing different types of each mode of transportation (steam train and express train, sailboat and shop, etc.) We have not read these aloud as much as the My First titles, but because they are oversized, they would work well in a story time, and they also keep Bo Peep busy on the floor as she figures out how to maneuver such a large unwieldy object!

Look! Flowers! by Stephanie Calmenson (9781499801156)
Look! Fish! by Stephanie Calmenson (9781499801668)
Look! Birds! by Stephanie Calmenson (9781499801149)

Visually, the three Look! books we received are very appealing. Though the illustrations are not photographs, they have enough realism to make the books useful as field guides, and yet also have a sense of personality that would be absent from purely scientific drawings. Moments like a drop of water landing on a sparrow's back, or a baby seahorse wrapping his tale around that of its father also give kids something of a story to appreciate in the pictures. Unfortunately, Stephanie Calmenson's text is very uneven. Some of her four-line rhymes work really well, and others are forced, as she crams too many syllables into a single line, or uses words only because they fit the rhythm or rhyme and not because they are the best words. Miss Muffet is really drawn to these books, but I'm hesitant to read her badly rhymed text. I may need to read through the books to learn the names of the flowers, fish, and birds and then impart the information to her through dialogue over the illustrations rather than reading the author's original words.  I like having images on hand to show her what certain living things look like, I just wish the text was more carefully edited.

Jane Foster's Colors (9781499802566)
Jane Foster's Black and White (9781499802559)

These books are the latest concept board books from graphic designer Jane Foster. Miss Muffet likes them both a lot, and she is constantly pointing out their similarities to Foster's ABC and 123 titles which we received for review several months ago and still read regularly. Of the two, I prefer the colors book, as it teaches the traditional colors of the rainbow plus some fun additions like turquoise. Though the black and white book is good for a brand-new baby who can't see that well yet, it is not just as interesting to devote an entire book to just two colors.  Regardless, though, both books are visually striking and would be great to have on display in a library's board book area.

Once I Was a Pollywog by Douglas Florian (9781499801415)
Leap, Frog, Leap! by Douglas Florian (9781499801422)

These board books are written by the clever children's poet Douglas Florian and illustrated with bright warm colors by Barbara Bakos. Once I Was a Pollywog shows the relationships between baby animals and the adults they will grow to become, while Leap, Frog, Leap! encourages kids to move like different animals. Though books on both topics are pretty common, these stood out for me because of Florian's impeccable use of rhyme, and the interesting style of the illustrations. I have especially grown to like Leap, Frog, Leap! after its great success at a recent story time. Even kids who are theoretically too old for board books really got into it. Of all the books Little Bee sent this Spring, this pair was my definite favorite.

Little Explorers: The Animal World by Ruth Martin (9781499802498)
Little Explorers: Outer Space by Ruth Martin (9781499802504)

These two lift-the-flap books are the size of an average picture book, but printed on sturdy paper just like board books. Their target audience skews a bit older - probably up to a third grade level or so - but Miss Muffet is fascinated by them and spends a lot of time opening and closing the flaps. I was hoping to use them to teach her some more in-depth information about the animal kingdom, and to introduce the idea of outer space, but I actually think they will be better used by kids who already have some background knowledge, as there is so much to take in on every page. The cartoonish illustrations are reminiscent of graphic novels, which would have made them a very popular choice with some early elementary boys I used to know at the library. I would caution against buying these for libraries, as lift-the-flap books have a short shelf life, but for curious kids who wish to amass as much information as possible on a single subject, these are the ideal titles.

Los Pollitos / Little Chickies by Susie Jaramillo (9780996995900)

I downloaded this book from NetGalley because I like the song on which it is based, and I liked that it included the song in both English and Spanish. I read it to Miss Muffet once on my computer screen, and she seemed to enjoy it well enough. Personally, I felt that the artwork was charming and engaging, but that the pages as a cohesive unit did not really contribute to a sense of story. Each picture correlates perfectly to the line from the song which it is intended to illustrate, but the artwork doesn't bring anything extra to the book. It felt a lot like I was looking at a text version of a You Tube video intended to be shared during story time or circle time. I would use this book in story time because I think it would be well-received, but it would not be something I would re-read again and again at home. 

God Bless This Starry Night by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965581)
God Loves Little Me by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965598)
Not So Silent Night! by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965604)
Noah's Noisy Animals by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965611)

Owl Diaries illustrator Rebecca Elliott is the creator of these religiously themed board books. I loved these instantly, and when I shared them with Miss Muffet on the computer, she requested repeat readings of every single one. God Loves Little Me is a celebration of the animals God has created and how they move their bodies. Each page names a specific animal that God loves and then provides a short phrase to describe a signature motion performed by that animal. This makes the book just right for toddlers who have a strong need to be in constant motion. God Bless This Starry Night is a simple bedtime prayer in which the child reader asks God to bless everything from his pillow to his toothbrush before settling down for the night. It would be a perfect baptism gift. The other two books - Noah's Noisy Animals and Not So Silent Night - simplify the Bible stories of Noah's Ark and the Nativity so they can be more easily understood by a very young child. Both of these books are also interactive, as they invite the child to make sounds along with their characters. These were a surprising treat to discover on NetGalley. I hope Elliott will do many more stories in this way. I'd especially love one for the story of Creation.

I received finished review copies of My First Vehicles, My First Sounds, My First Animals, My First Opposites, Farm Animals, Zoo Animals, Cars and Trucks, Trains, Boats, and Planes, Look! Flowers!, Look! Fish!, Look! Birds!, Jane Foster's Colors, Jane Foster's Black and White, Once I Was a Pollywog, Leap, Frog, Leap,  Little Explorers: The Animal World, and Little Explorers: Outer Space from Little Bee Books. I received a digital ARC of Los Pollitos/Little Chickies from AuthorBuzz via NetGalley. I received digital ARCs of God Bless This Starry Night, God Loves Little MeNot So Silent Night!, and Noah's Noisy Animals from Lion Hudson via NetGalley.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Join me for a Story Time Webinar!

Next month, I'm presenting a free story time webinar for Booklist. I'll be sharing tips for story time which appear in my forthcoming book, Story Time Success: A Practical Guide for Librarians. Click here to register. See below for details. 

Looking to spice up your story time repertoire? Katie Fitzgerald, formerly of the DC Public Library, will share tips and tricks for performing engaging story times from her new book, Story Time Success: A Practical Guide for Librarians (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). Learn to recognize the indicators of a great story time, and how you can best set yourself up to achieve success. This refresher course on engaging young ones through story time is sponsored by Rowman & Littlefield and moderated by Rebecca Vnuk, Booklist Editor for Collection Management & Library Outreach.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reflections on Library Service to Paid Performers

Inviting outside performers to make presentations in the library is a key part of many public libraries' summer reading programs for children, and a staple of programming in libraries in general. When you hire performers to share their talents and expertise with your patrons, it is important to help make their events successful. There are four main ways to make sure you are supporting your outside performers' work to the best of your ability.

Choose a performer wisely. 

There are many wonderful children's performers out there, but not all of them will suit your library's schedule, needs, or interests. Research your options carefully before deciding who to hire (including seeking out references from other libraries). Consider the ages of the children who frequent your library, and look for presenters who do programs tailored to their developmental needs. Avoid hiring performers in the hopes that they will bring in an audience - it's not fair to waste a professional's time on a crapshoot. If you're going to spend your budget hiring a performer, get the most out of your money by doing all you can to guarantee an audience. (This also includes scheduling performances at times when your patrons are likely to attend them, and not just in a time slot that works for the performer.)


Performers who work with libraries generally know that spaces and equipment vary from location to location, but don't wait for them to ask you what is available, or what you expect from them. Instead, lay out your expectations and policies when you first make contact and continue to communicate during the weeks and days leading up to the performance. Also find out from the performer if they will need anything from you on the day of the event. They may need to use a microphone, easel, or projector, or require something as small as a pencil or a bottle of water. By discussing all these details ahead of time, you make sure that both the library and the performer are prepared, thus contributing to a positive experience for everyone.

Staff the event, but do not micromanage.

Even when a professional performer has been hired to make a presentation, the program is still being sponsored by the library, and a representative of the library should be present. The librarian or other staff member should take responsibility for enforcing library policy during the program and for handling any last-minute questions or problems. The librarian should not, however, try to dictate the specifics of a performer's presentation. When you hire someone to bring their expertise to your library, you invite them to share their talent using their own approach, and they don't have to do things your way. It's fine to seek out performers with a specific style, but once they have been hired, it isn't really fair to be upset if they don't interact with the audience in the same way you might during story time.

Follow up after the presentation.

Following any paid performance in your library, check in with your presenter. Thank him or her for the presentation, and share any positive feedback you received from patrons as they left the program. If there were any issues before or during the program, take a moment to tactfully discuss what went wrong and consider ways to improve the experience in the future. Each time I have taken a moment to chat with a presenter following a program, I have taken away a new bit of information about working with young children, or made a connection with someone whose path crossed mine in other ways down the road. While you might be too busy to linger too long after the program, it is best not to let the performer simply walk out of the library without at least a brief moment to connect with you. 

Do you host paid performers at your library location? How do you help them achieve success in their programs?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

8+ Kids' Books Illustrated by Erin McGuire

I first discovered Erin McGuire's artwork when I reviewed French Ducks in Venice in the early days of this blog. Ever since then, I have kept an eye out for her distinct style and have discovered that she has done the covers - and sometimes the interior artwork - for many chapter books and novels. Today's list is a sampling of some of the wonderful covers she has done!

  • A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar
    When Alex develops a crush on Bijou, he does not realize how her strict family, her experiences during the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and the judgmental attitudes of their classmates will impact their budding relationship. 
  • Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
    When Hazel's best friend Jack is hit by a snowball containing a shard of glass, he suddenly becomes cruel and callous, then disappears into the woods with a mysterious woman. In this retelling of The Snow Queen, Hazel realizes she must be the one to save him and bring him home again.
  • The Hard Pan Trilogy by Susan Patron
    In this series, which begins with the 2007 Newbery Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky, a young orphan from a very small town in California struggles to come to terms with the loss of her mother, the love of her guardian, Brigitte, and various other problems that befall her community. The first two books were originally illustrated by Matt Phelan, but Erin McGuire redid the covers when the third book was published in 2011. The titles in this trilogy, with links to my reviews are below:
  • Nancy Drew Diaries series by Carolyn Keene
    This latest middle grade reboot of the Nancy Drew series represents a return to the traditional sleuthing associated with the character, without relying on a lot of technological gadgets and other modern aids to solve her cases. There are ten titles in the series. (Links are to my reviews, where available.)

    • Saranormal series by Phoebe Rivers
      Sara Collins is a twelve-year-old psychic who tries to lead a normal life while also communicating with ghosts and discovering more and more of her own supernatural powers. There are 11 titles in the series. (Links are to my reviews.)
      • Ghost Town
      • Haunted Memories
      • Mischief Night
      • Spirits of the Season
      • Moment of Truth
      • Giving Up the Ghost
      • The Secrets Within
      • Kindred Spirits
      • Playing with Fire
      • A Perfect Storm 
      • Yesterday and Today

    • Shelter Pet Squad series by Cynthia Lord
      In this chapter book series, Suzannah, a second grader, can't have a pet of her own due to her landlord's strict rules, so instead she joins the Shelter Pet Squad, where she is the youngest member. In each book of the series, the squad works to find a home for a specific animal by researching it needs and finding the best potential owner to meet them. There are three books so far. (Links are to my reviews.)

    For samples from these books, and more art by Erin McGuire, visit her website. See more illustrator book lists here.

    Monday, May 16, 2016

    Bout of Books Progress Day 7 / Final Wrap-Up Post

    Bout of Books
    Another Bout of Books has come to an end! On day 7, I finished two books:
    • Friendly Gables by Hilda van Stockum (vintage MG)
    • The Wonderful Year by Nancy Barnes (vintage MG)
    I also read about half of Howl's Moving Castle, but decided to sleep rather than try to rush through the rest of it.

    My final reading total for the bout was 30 books, which is 6 more than I originally planned. I did not, however, complete all of my specific goals. Here they are again, with notes on what I did and did not accomplish:  

    • Read three titles for Fumbling Through Fantasy.
      I read one (The Gammage Cup) and a half (Howl's Moving Castle). I take a really long time to read fantasy, so I sort of had a feeling I might not accomplish this goal anyway.  
    • Read one Old School Sunday title.
      I ended up reading five of these. They were more interesting than the fantasy titles, and I always have a backlog so they were readily available. 
    • Read my 1960s and 1970s titles for Newbery Through the Decades.
      Read both (The Gammage Cup for the 60s, Summer of the Swans for the 70s.) I also read my 80s title (On My Honor). 
    • Read ARCs for middle grade books coming out in June and July.
      I ended up reading all of these except Lucky Strikes, which for some reason I didn't realize was YA until now. I've decided not to read it at all. 
    • Read ARCs of chapter books coming out in June and July.
      I read all of these. 
    • Read all the YA ARCs I currently have.
      There are two I didn't get to: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories and It's Not Me, It's You.
    I'm looking forward to writing all my reviews over the next three months so I can be ready for another round of intense reading when the August Bout of Books comes around! 

    Sunday, May 15, 2016

    Bout of Books Progress Day 6

    Bout of Books
    As the read-a-thon winds down, so does my reading. I made a lot of good progress, though, so even if I don't get much done on the last day, I'll still feel that it was worth participating. On day six, I read one single volume, which contained two books:
    • Carney's House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace (vintage YA)
    • Winona's Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace (vintage MG)
    I also started Friendly Gables by Hilda Van Stockum, and I hope to finish it before the end of the read-a-thon. 

    Saturday, May 14, 2016

    Everything I Know About Surviving Middle School I Learned from a Middle Grade Novel

    Today's topic for Armchair BEA is Surviving Fictional Worlds. Because I focus almost exclusively on realistic fiction written for children, there aren't many fictional worlds in the books I read that are all that different from the real world that I live in. But there is one world which, no matter the character, no matter the time and geographical location, is difficult to survive. That is the world of middle school. I have read what probably amounts to hundreds of middle grade novels set in middle school, and many of them have similar themes and messages. Today, I'd like to share a few things young readers can learn from these books about surviving middle school.

    Tell the truth.

    Lying is a big problem for many fictional middle schoolers. Often kids lie to impress a potential boyfriend/girlfriend, like Kevin Spencer (from Liar Liar by Gary Paulsen) who lies to get out of class in order to get closer to his crush, Tina, or Cici Reno (Cici Reno, Middle School Matchmaker), who pretends to be someone else on Twitter in order to get the attention of the boy she likes. Other characters lie to manipulate situations, like Avery from Fake Me a Match by Lauren Barnholdt, who tries to win over her stepsister by rigging a matchmaking service to pair her with her crush, or Sadie from Peanut by Ayun Halliday, who invents a peanut allergy in order to make herself seem more interesting. There are even characters who lie to cover up what they've done, such as Thad in How to Break a Heart by Kiera Stewart. In all of these situations, though, the lies snowball to the point where they take over the characters' lives and eventually, the awful truth comes out in an awkward and difficult confrontation. 

    Make friends who share your interests. 

    I have to admit that the ease with which girls find like-minded friends in fictional middle schools is not always believable. I really didn't have friends during middle school at all, so this idea that you could walk into the cafeteria (or detention, or an after school club meeting) and immediately find your tribe sometimes makes me roll my eyes. But it's definitely worked in series like How to Survive Middle School, Annabelle Unleashed, The Odd Squad, The Snob Squad, and Nerd Girls. Personally, though, I think Jamie's friendship with Isabella in the Dear Dumb Diary books is much closer to the truth for most middle schoolers.

    Don't bring your diary to school. 

    Harriet from Harriet the Spy learned the hard way what happens when you write down blunt observations of your classmates and those words fall into the wrong hands. Still, that hasn't stopped other fictional characters from keeping diaries and bringing them to school. In both Mackenzie Blue and  This is All Your Fault, Cassie Parker, diaries are stolen and shared with the very people from whom they should have been kept most secret. If a middle schooler is going to share her innermost thoughts, it is best to do so at home, and then hide the evidence!

    Don't over-emphasize popularity. 

    Many, many protagonists in novels about middle school worry about their popularity, but whether they lose it, experience it temporarily, or can't even achieve it in the first place, they eventually realize that being well-liked by many people is not as satisfying as have one or two close friends. This common theme runs through many popular series: Dork Diaries, Popularity Papers, The Classroom and The Winnie Years, as well as in titles like Always, Abigail, Mission (Un)popular, and Pack of Dorks.

    To explore more of the world of fictional middle school, try these posts: 8 Funny Middle School Series for Boys and 12 Middle Grade Series About Friendship for Girls.

    Bout of Books Progress Day 5

    Bout of Books
    I kind of hit the wall reading-wise on day 5. I'm getting to the point where the only titles left on my list are the ones I've been putting off, and I have a cold and just couldn't get motivated to read more than two books. They were:
    I really hope to get at least two more books read over the weekend, but I'm not making any guarantees.

    Friday, May 13, 2016

    Bout of Books Progress Day 4

    Bout of Books

    I read five books on day four: two in the wee hours of the morning, one during the day, and two more in the evening. It's becoming clear that I'm probably not going to complete all the goals I set for myself, but I have read a total of 24 books so far, so I can't be disappointed. Here's the list for Thursday:
    I also participated in the If You Like This, Try This challenge on Instagram.

    #ArmchairBEA Day 3: Ten Bookish Things I Do (Besides Blogging)

    One of today's topics for Armchair BEA is Beyond the Blog. Though a lot of my book-related work does happen here at Story Time Secrets, I also do plenty of reading, writing, and celebrating books in other ways. To respond to this topic, I want to share ten bookish things I do besides writing this blog.

    Rating Books on Goodreads

    I have been rating and occasionally reviewing books on Goodreads since 2008, and as time has gone on, I have become more and more precise about how these books are categorized. I have dozens and dozens of shelves, indicating what year I read each book, when it was published, whether I posted a review on my blog, which of my daughters has heard it, and whether it reflects a particular theme, reading level, genre, or format. I am also a Goodreads Librarian, so I spend some of my time correcting errors in the details about books, especially series.

    Curating Books on Pinterest

    I am also very meticulous about my book-related Pinterest boards. I categorize all my reviews according to their intended audience, and I also have separate boards for special features like Old School Sunday and Fumbling Through Fantasy. Other boards are devoted to children's book lists from other blogs, and themed collections of picture books and related activities.

    Participating in Picture Book of the Day 

    This is my second year as a member of the Picture Book of the Day team. We used to share picture books on Facebook, but in January, we made the move to Instagram. Under the #PictureBookoftheDay hashtag you can see our creative photographs featuring new and classic picture book favorites. (My most recent contributions were this picture for Rain by Robert Kalan and Donald Crews and this one for The Mouse Who Ate the Moon by Petr Horacek.)

    Performing Story Times for Moms Club

    I left library work in late 2013 and have been home with first one daughter, and now two, since then. Thankfully, though, my moms group has a fondness for story time, and I usually perform one story time for them per month. It's a great way to give back to a group that makes it easier for me and my kids to make friends, and it keeps my skills sharp. (Click for blog posts about these story times.)

    Listening to Nonfiction Audiobooks

    Now that my oldest is a busy two-year-old, I don't have a lot time to read during the day. After listening to podcasts, I discovered that I really like to listen to nonfiction content, even though I don't really like to read it on the page. And it turns out that both my kids will tolerate very long stroller walks, so while we stroll, I listen to adult nonfiction books. The first two books I completed this way were Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV, by Warren Littlefield and T. R. Pearson and Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis (narrated by Carol Spinney, who plays Big Bird!)

    Judging and Organizing Cybils

    Since I started this blog, I have often been involved with the Cybils: Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. I was a judge for the category of easy readers and early chapter books in 2011 and 2012, and then after taking a break to have my older daughter, I returned as chair of the category in 2014 and 2015. My favorite part is having discussions with other readers about why a book works or does not work. I wish I had more opportunities to talk about books like that year-round!

    Talking About Books on Facebook

    I am a member of two great Facebook groups for talking about kids' books: a children's book bloggers support group (which is private), and Read Aloud Resources. Many of the members of Read Aloud Resources are homeschoolers, and also have Christian/conservative views about what their kids read, which really meshes well with my parenting style. I enjoy trading recommendations and learning more about how non-library people view the library. I also maintain a Facebook page connected with this blog, but most of what I post there is not "beyond the blog" but directly from it.

    Visiting Used Bookstores and Sales 

    As a family, we often go on weekend adventures to used bookstores and book sales. We have a list of books we are looking to buy, but we also enjoy browsing and finding unexpected treasures. My favorite book sale find so far has been The Secret Language, the only novel of  HarperCollins editor, Ursula Nordstrom, who worked with so many famous authors, including Maurice Sendak and Charlotte Zolotow.

    Reading to my Kids

    Though I have a monthly feature here talking about reading to my daughters, Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, I read to them more than what is mentioned here. Both my kids heard novels as newborns, and they continue to enjoy a wide variety of material. I sometimes even read blog posts aloud as I'm proofreading them!

    Writing A Book 

    Finally, the most bookish thing I did over the past year was write a book! Story Time Success: A Practical Guide for Librarians comes out in July. It is a step-by-step guide for learning how to perform story times, and also a refresher for veteran performers.

    For more on how and why I read, check out this post from the archives: Five Reasons I Became a Reader.

    Thursday, May 12, 2016

    #ArmchairBEA Day 2: Favorite Middle Grade Book Covers of 2016 (So Far)

    Today's Armchair BEA topic is aesthetics. As a reader, I tend to rely more heavily on reviews and descriptions than covers to direct me toward the books I will enjoy. However, as a librarian, though I am not working in a library right now, I am still attuned to those books whose covers are truly display-worthy. The four books below are newly published middle grade novels whose covers I especially like.
    Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
    Published April 5, 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
    Cover illustration by Mina Price.
    I like this cover because it invites the reader into the world of the story's three main characters before they have even been introduced. Though the title suggests that the girls in the story are similar, this cover illustration really highlights their differences, showing through small details the personalities and interests of each one. The boats on the water also connect directly to the summer camp setting. Girls who are scanning library shelves looking for beach reads will spot this one right away, and upon picking it up, they will find that it matches exactly what they had in mind. It's also fun trying to figure out who is who in this image as the characters are introduced.

    Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varajaradan
    Published May 10, 2016 by Scholastic Press
    Jacket illustration by Mark Elliott
    The cover for Save Me a Seat also sets the stage for its story quite well. The cafeteria trays hint at the setting for the book (school) and its structure (chapters are organized around the lunch menu). The differing foods highlight the culture clash between the two main characters: Joe, a white boy, and Ravi, a new student from India. Since the book is written by two authors, the cover also makes it easy to identify who is writing which character. Gita Varadarajan's name is written on Ravi's tray, while Sarah Weeks's name appears on what is clearly Joe's tray. Just with a quick glance at the cover, the reader can gain a complete sense of the type of book this is and decide whether it suits his interests.

    The Tiara on the Terrace by Kristen Kittscher
    Published January 5, 2016 by HarperCollins
    Cover illustration by Marcos Calo.
    The soft color palette of this cover is instantly intriguing, especially for readers who enjoy mysteries and detective fiction. The girl on the left, Sophie, looks cautious and nervous, as is appropriate to her personality, while Grace, on the right, looks determined and unafraid as she invites the reader into the excitement of the murder the girls are about to solve. There isn't a lot of information about the story itself on the cover, but just the sly look on Grace's face is enough to make a potential reader stop and take a second look. The cover is also similar to that of the first book in the series, The Wig in the Window, a fact which will catch the attention of readers who are already fans.

    Mission Mumbai by Mahtab Narsimhan
    Published March 29, 2016 by Scholastic Press
    Cover illustration by Kelley McMorris.
    Finally, I love the cover for Mission Mumbai because it's so boy-friendly. The cover shows every major theme of this book: the hot, crowded streets of Mumbai, the warmth and good humor of the friendship shared by the two boys and the cultural and physical differences between the main characters that play a role in the conflicts which arise between them. I also like the sense of adventure and excitement signified by the angle of the bikes and the way the boys look as though they are just about to pick up speed. The illustrator really captured the personalities of both boys so well in just this one image. (The illustrator made a fascinating blog post about the evolution of this cover that shows some of her early sketches and the thought process behind this final product.)

    Which new book covers have caught your eye? How did you respond to today's topic?

    Bout of Books Progress Day 3

    Bout of Books
    My reading for day 3 was broken up in several segments. I read one book between midnight and 1 a.m.  then went to bed. When I woke up I read another book between 8 and 9 a.m. In the afternoon, I powered through a really long YA ARC that took me several hours (with several interruptions.) Then I finished the day with two average-length middle grade ARCs, one of which I read before dinner, and the other of which spanned the rest of the evening. Here's the full list:

    I also completed the 5 Favorites challenge.

    Here is how I stand so far with my original goals for the read-a-thon:
    • Read three titles for Fumbling Through Fantasy.
      One read (The Gammage Cup), two to go (The Thief and Return of the Twelves).
    • Read one Old School Sunday title.
      None read so far, several on my to-read list
    • Read my 1960s and 1970s titles for Newbery Through the Decades.
      Read both (The Gammage Cup for the 60s, Summer of the Swans for the 70s.) I also read my 80s title (On My Honor). 
    • Read ARCs for middle grade books coming out in June and July.
      Four read (Every Single Second, How to Almost Ruin Your Summer, Macarons at Midnight, Dumbness is a Dish Best Served Cold), two to go (The World from Up Here and Lucky Strikes)
    • Read ARCs of chapter books coming out in June and July.
      Five read (Slingshot and Burp, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, Pearl's Ocean Magic, Meet the Bobs and Tweets, and Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony), one to go (Jess's Story)
    • Read all the YA ARCs I currently have.
      Three read (Anything You Want, This is My Brain on Boys, and The Leaving), two to go (Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories and It's Not Me, It's You).

    Wednesday, May 11, 2016

    Five Favorite Board Books to Read Aloud

    Today's challenge for Bout of Books was Five Favorites. 

    Everybody loves sharing favorites and now we're giving you free rein to do just that. Pick the topic of your choice and share your 5 favorite books that fit. Topics could be a favorite genre, a favorite trope, book boyfriends, or ANYTHING. There's no limit to where you can take this!

    I have two small children with colds so I am very late in getting around to this, but since I read so many of them, I wanted to share five favorite board books that I enjoy reading to Little Miss Muffet (age 2.5) and Little Bo Peep (7 months). These are not my only favorites, just five of the many! 

    • My Lucky Little Dragon by Joyce Wan
      As someone who often calls her children affection names like "monkey" and "wombat," I enjoy the way this book uses animal names as pet names for young children. My kids have also both loved looking at themselves in the mirror on the last page of the book. I reviewed this book in 2014, and called it "an absolutely perfect book for baby story time." 
    • Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden
      This book is so short and small that it is easy to dismiss, but it impresses me that so few words can be used in such a clever way. The rhymes still amuse me, even though I have read the book many, many times, and it's the perfect length for a little baby with a very short attention span.
    • Dig Dig Digging by Margaret Mayo
      We haven't looked at this book in a while, but it's a fun rhyming introduction to diggers and other types of vehicles, including fire trucks, garbage trucks, and even helicopters. I also discovered that most of the text can be sung to the tune of "Going to the Zoo" by Raffi, which makes it that much more fun to read!
    • Larry Loves Washington, DC!: A Larry Gets Lost Book by John Skewes
      Since we live not too far outside of DC, this book is a great way to introduce some of our local landmarks to our little ones. I really enjoy the vintage-style artwork, and my toddler enjoys asking me, "What is Larry doing? What is the boy doing?" as she turns the pages.
    • Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love with Your Baby edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
      As evidenced by our recent poetry picnics, we are poetry lovers in my house. This book, a poetry collection in board book format especially for babies, was a gift for Little Bo Peep's first Christmas. The poems are very short, but each one captures an important emotion or milestone in the life of an infant. Some of the poems have only just recently become relevant to our lives, as the baby has begun to crawl and eat solid food, but others have been appropriate for her since birth. Poetry is a great way to sneak some reading into your baby's day, so this book is really ideal for the age group. 

    Bout of Books Progress Day 2

    Bout of Books

    The second day of Bout of Books got off to a better start than day one. By noon, I had already read one book! Unfortunately, it took me all day after that to finish my second one, and my total for the day was only 5 books:
    I skipped the Show Off Your Shelves Photo Challenge. 

    #ArmchairBEA 2016, Day 1: Introduction

    Armchair BEA

    Armchair BEA begins today! This is my introduction post, with answers to questions chosen from the official list.

    What is the name you prefer to use?
    How long have you been a book blogger?
    Have you participated in ABEA before?

    I'm Katie, I've been blogging about books for 5 and a half years, and this is my third year participating in ABEA.

    Do you have a favorite book? If you cannot choose a favorite book of all time, pick your favorite book today - just this second. Remember that favorites are allowed to change if something affects you deeply enough.

    I have a lot of different favorite books across different categories. My favorite novel written for adults is Empire Falls by Richard Russo. My favorite YA novel is That Summer by Sarah Dessen. My favorite picture book (at the moment, anyway) is a toss-up between Where the Wild Things Are and All the World. My "official" favorite children's novel (the answer I give when I'm asked in a professional context) is Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsberg, but I read so many, my favorite changes every week. My favorite of this year so far is Mission Mumbai. I also love The Moon By Night by Madeleine L'Engle.

    What is your favorite genre and why?

    Though I am doing my best to branch out and get to know other genres, my favorite will always be contemporary realistic fiction. I feel most comfortable in the real world, and I especially enjoy reading fresh and new descriptions of everyday emotions and events.

    What book are you most excited for on your TBR? What are you most intimidated by?

    Bout of Books is also happening this week, and I have a lengthy to-read list to get through. Of those I haven't started yet, I'm probably most excited for Carney's House Party and Winona's Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace. I'm most intimidated by Return of the Twelves, which I'm planning to read for Fumbling Through Fantasy, but which is not something I would typically choose to read

    If you could choose three characters to have lunch with, who would they be and why?

    I could probably give ten different answers to this question, but I'll go with Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton's alphabet mysteries (because she isn't particular about food and would have many interesting stories to tell), Sumner Lee from That Summer by Sarah Dessen (for comic relief), and Vicky Austin from Meet the Austins (and sequels) by Madeleine L'Engle.  

    Tuesday, May 10, 2016

    Bout of Books Progress Day 1

    Bout of Books

    During the first eighteen hours of Bout of Books, I didn't even finish one full book, but after my kids went to bed last night, I got down to business. In the end, my total for the day was 9 books. Here's the list:

    I also participated in the day's challenge, which was to introduce myself #insixwords

    Thursday, May 5, 2016

    Moms Club Story Time, 4/28/16

    At the April social for my Moms Club, I performed a story time in a church gym for a group of about 12 kids ranging in age from 3 weeks old up to 4 years old. It was probably the biggest turn-out I have ever had for a non-library story time, and it was the only one I've ever done without the ukulele. (I left it home because I had to walk to the story time location in the rain with a double stroller and didn't want an extra thing to carry.) This session was also unique in that almost everything I did was new to my story time repertoire. Here is my full set list.

    Opening Song: Story Time is Starting
    I have been sick of my traditional "Hello, how are you?" hello song for months. It is especially awkward to use at Moms Club gatherings, because the story time is never at the start of the meeting. So, I wrote a new opening song, which is sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It." It goes like this:

    Story time is starting, clap your hands
    Story time is starting, clap your hands
    Story time's begun, 
    I hope that you have fun! 
    Story time is starting, clap your hands

    We did three verses: clapping, stomping, shouting hooray. It was so much better than "Hello, how are you?" 

    Book: When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes
    This is the latest book from Kevin Henkes and his wife Laura Dronzek. I don't like it as much as Birds, which is one of my favorite nature picture books, but it was well-suited for establishing the theme of the story time. (I set out to plan an unthemed program, but a Spring theme ended up naturally emerging anyway.) I wouldn't say the kids loved it, but it went over fine, even despite the fact that Little Bo Peep spit up on the floor in the middle of it, prompting Miss Muffet to yell, "Mama! Spit up! Mama!" 

    Song: Springtime is Here
    I found a version of this song on YouTube, performed by a librarian from King County Library System. Some of her verses either didn't make sense, or had too many syllables, so I changed those, and added some more of my own. The kids were really good at acting out the song, and because they knew the tune, it was easy for them to pick up each verse quickly and sing along. Here are my verses:

    The ducks in the pond go quack, quack quack... springtime is here! 
    The eggs in the nest go crack, crack, crack... springtime is here! 
    The birds in the sky go flap, flap, flap... springtime is here!   
    The bunnies in the grass go hop, hop, hop... springtime is here! 
    The wind in the air goes whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.... springtime is here! 
    The rain coming down goes drip, drip, drip... springtime is here! 
    The boots in the mud go stomp, stomp, stomp... springtime is here! 

    Rhyme: See, See, See
    I have had this rhyme on file for years, but it does not appear that I have ever used it. This audience was especially interested in moving around, so it was a perfect choice, and a perfect segue into a story about three ducks.

    Book: Three Ducks Went Wandering by Ron Roy, illustrated by Paul Galdone
    This book was long for the littlest kids, and even the bigger kids seemed to fade in and out a bit as I was reading. I probably would not choose this again unless all of the kids in the group were four or five. They were most interested in the snake, but didn't seem to follow the plot all that well. (It was also during this book that Miss Muffet, who normally loves this story, started playing with sound equipment at the back of the room and had to be rescued by another mom.)

    Book: Leap, Frog, Leap by Douglas Florian
    This is a new board book of which I just received a review copy from Little Bee Books a few days prior to the story time. The size of the book was just a little bit larger than From Head to Toe, and because I knew the kids would be able to see the pictures, I decided to use it as a movement activity. The biggest kids in the group acted it out really well.

    Song: Head and Shoulders, Baby
    I just recently taught this song to Little Miss Muffet, so I put it into the story time in the hopes of engaging her a little bit. It worked! She did most of the motions, as did a whole line of little girls seated right in the front row. I had planned to do Tony Chestnut, but I think this was the better option.

    Book: A Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
    Though this book is sort of an odd note to end on, the kids were interested in talking about where bunnies might live, and they agreed that places like  bogs, nests, and crowded logs would not be good places for a rabbit. The ending seemed to satisfy them, but I knew they didn't have much of an attention span left, so I started wrapping things up.

    Sing-Along Songs: Itsy Bitsy Spider and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
    Since I didn't have the ukulele, I didn't do my usual ABC medley to signal the end of story time. Instead, we just sang a couple of favorite songs I knew everyone enjoyed. The moms all sang along and did the motions with their kids, which was great.

    Rhyme: This is Big, Big, Big
    This makes a better ending rhyme for story time than I ever realized. One boy in the audience has been a big fan of this rhyme ever since he first came to story time with me, so even though he's getting older now, I was still glad to be able to share it with him. The other kids also did a nice job with it.

    Closing Song: Story Time is Over
    Goodbye songs are even more awkward than hello songs because we never end story time and leave immediately. So I changed the words to my opening song a bit to come up with a non-goodbye closing song. It goes like this: 

    Story time is over, clap your hands
    Story time is over, clap your hands
    Story time is done
    I hope that you had fun!
    Story time is over, clap your hands

    This story time really renewed my excitement about performing. I put another story time on the calendar for May, so check back later in the month for another brand-new plan.
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